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How Koby Altman Made Donovan Mitchell the Cherry on the Cavaliers’ Cake

Last Updated: July 1, 2023
Boardroom explores the Koby Altman blueprint for building a compelling, ascendant roster in Cleveland, with Spida’s 71-point game serving as the perfect exclamation point.

It’s nearly impossible to wrap your head around a 70-point game. After all, before Monday, only six players had done it before.

Then came the seventh.

Donovan Mitchell dropped 71 points in a 145-134 comeback victory for the Cleveland Cavaliers against the Bulls, the first 70-point game since Devin Booker scored 70 in 2017. For several reasons, Mitchell’s night was historic, but perhaps the most impressive fact of it all is how he did it: the most efficient 70+ point game in NBA history (78.9 true shooting percentage), eclipsing David Thompson’s 78% TS in 1978.

Shooting numbers from Mitchell’s 71-point game:

  • 2PT FG: 15-of-19
  • 3PT FG: 7-of-15
  • FT: 20-of-25

The performance bolstered Cleveland’s hot start this season (24-14), with momentum continues to carry over from last season when the Cavaliers won 44 games — their first year above .500 since LeBron James’ last campaign in The Land in 2017-18. And Mitchell, who’s in just the second year of a five-year $163 million rookie max extension, was clearly the last piece President of Basketball Operations Koby Altman needed to build a real championship contender far, far ahead of schedule and without the need for years and years of tanking.

In September, Altman and the Cavs sent Lauri Markkanen, rookie Ochai Agbaji, Collin Sexton, three unprotected first-round picks, and two pick swaps (2026 and 2028) to Utah for “Spida.” It represented a new chapter for Cleveland, one with championship aspirations. Altman, who was first hired in Cleveland in 2017 as General Manager, had to reboot and recover when Kyrie Irving left for Boston in 2017 and LeBron departed for LA in 2018.

“While this year was a lot about development, it was about evaluation, too,” Altman said in May 2021. “I think a lot of questions were answered for us in terms of the excitement level for that young core. The next step for us is, we have to supplement that young talent.”

It’s an extremely tall task for a team to bounce back after losing a player of James’ caliber. Look no further than when he first left Cleveland for Miami from 2010 through 2014; the Cavs didn’t win more than 33 games in any of those seasons. But thanks to an incredible eye for young talent, wise spending, and big-game moves, Altman not only got the Cavs to bounce back — he constructed a team that’s built for a title run.

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The Koby Altman Process

After a brutal three-year rebuild in which the Cavs won a total 60 games, Altman knew their time was coming. “There’s no quick fix, I can’t snap my fingers and turn this thing around, but I do know that we are set up for sustainable success,” he said in 2021.

Less than two seasons later, they’re the 3-seed in the Eastern Conference on the 12th-lowest active salary cap spending in the NBA. There’s a reason why he became the first General Manager to get a second term from Cavs’ owner Dan Gilbert, signing a multiyear deal with a promotion to president of basketball operations.

Just look at the transformation.

Cavaliers Starting 5s at a Glance

2018-20192022-23
Collin SextonDonovan Mitchell
Cedi OsmanDarius Garland
Rodney HoodCaris LeVert
Tristan ThompsonEvan Mobley
Larry Nance Jr.Jarrett Allen

Koby Altman and head coach JB Bickerstaff utilized three big men in their starting five last season — Allen, Mobley, and Markkanen. Cleveland initially acquired Lauri Markkanen from Chicago in three-way sign-and-trade in exchange for Larry Nance Jr. and a second-rounder.

They signed him for four years, $67.4 million, then flipped him in the offseason as a centerpiece in the Mitchell trade. Sexton, meanwhile, was their eighth overall pick in the 2018 draft, but with Garland popping off and Mitchell headed to northeast Ohio, the backcourt was already full. Thus, he was a sweetener in the deal to give Utah another young piece to build around.

Pre-Mitchell Moves

  • The Cavaliers acquired Jarrett Allen in a three-team blockbuster which sent James Harden to Brooklyn. Houston had zero intentions of spending big money on Allen, but Cleveland did; signing him to a five-year, $100 million deal in Aug. 2021.
  • They also took on Taurean Prince’s $10.2 million from Brooklyn, and flipped him in a trade with Minnesota for Ricky Rubio — the same day they signed Allen.
  • In Feb. 2021, the Cavs reunited Allen with Caris LeVert — whom he played with since his rookie season in Brooklyn. They traded an injured Ricky Rubio for a struggling LeVert, who’s now averaging 12 points this season.
  • Instead of offloading (or eating) Kevin Love’s four-year, $120.4 million contract, Altman kept the 15-year pro to be a veteran presence in the locker room. Love has flourished in the sixth-man role, averaging nearly 10 points and seven rebounds in 20 minutes per game. He’ll become an unrestricted free agent this offseason.

Building From Within

  • In 2019, Altman selected Garland with the fifth overall pick. The 23-year-old is averaging 21.3 points on a career-high 40% shooting from three. After breaking through in 2021-22, they extended Garland for five years, $194.3 million.
  • In 2021, they drafted Evan Mobley third overall. At 21 years old, Mobley has asserted himself as a legitimate force inside the paint, averaging 14.5 points and nine rebounds on 55.7% shooting. He’s still on his rookie deal, but after the 2023-24 season, he’ll become eligible for a five-year, $205 million contract.

Future Finances

Following this season, the Cavaliers will have about $37 million in luxury tax space — up from the $2 million they currently have this season. That being said, they’ll only have seven players on the books next season. The main core will remain intact, but Love and LeVert come off the books and they’ll have to extend Mobley the following offseason.

Koby Altman clearly has several tricks up his sleeves, but swooping in and nabbing Mitchell from the Knicks is his best move yet among a plethora of them. He saw it coming the entire time, perhaps quicker than anyone could’ve ever imagined. And if they don’t snag a ring this season, at the very least, there’s respectability back in Cleveland and the fans are excited.

Not for nothing, they’re sixth in attendance across the entire Association. Come playoff time, Rocket Mortgage Arena could be louder than an interstellar launch.

Cavaliers Futures Betting Odds 2022-23

All betting figures via FanDuel Sportsbook.

  • Win NBA Finals: +2000 (10th in the NBA)
  • Win Eastern Conference: +1000 (No. 5)
  • Win Central Division: +260 (No. 2)

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About The Author
Anthony Puccio
Anthony Puccio
Anthony Puccio is a former Staff Writer at Boardroom. Puccio has 10 years of experience in journalism and content creation, previously working for SB Nation, The Associated Press, New York Daily News, SNY, and Front Office Sports. In 2016, he received New York University's CCTOP scholarship and earned a bachelor's degree in Communications from St. John's University. He can be spotted a mile away thanks to his plaid suits and thick New York accent. Don't believe us? Check his Twitter @APooch.