When thinking about the modern era of the Cleveland Cavaliers, LeBron James always comes to mind first. It makes sense considering James is the greatest player in the franchise's history and arguably the greatest player of all time. James won the Cavs' first championship in 2016, bringing Cleveland and Northeastern Ohio its first championship in over 50 years. Whenever the Kid From Akron hangs it up, a statue outside of Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse will immediately follow to accompany his jersey retirement.

The shadow James leaves on the Cavs is massive. But, in the last several seasons, Cleveland has seemingly made the improbable possible: they've built out of the shadow of LeBron. Last season, the Cavs made the postseason for the first time without James on the roster since the 1997-98 season. Funnily enough, most players on Cleveland's roster weren't even alive when that monumental event happened.

So, even though the Cavs were bounced in the first round by the New York Knicks, it's still a big deal that Cleveland broke a 25-year streak. Sure, a lot of credit goes to the organization for making smart draft decisions and trades and prioritizing player development. But the main conduit for it all has been and remains to be Donovan Mitchell, the superstar scoring guard who carries the Cavs some nights just like James once did.

Donovan Mitchell's Cavs Impact in Post-LeBron James Era

Cavs' Donovan Mitchell shooting the ball while looking serious

Only midway into his second season with Cleveland, Mitchell has impacted the Cavs and their franchise's history. Mitchell has already broken James' record for most 40-point games in a single season and already has the second-most in franchise history with 18. He has made the most 3-pointers in a single season, passing J.R. Smith. He's scored the most points in a single game in franchise history with 71, which is tied for ninth-most all-time.

Clearly, Mitchell has more than lived up to the Cavs' branded hashtag and let everyone know that he's the first true blue superstar Cleveland has had since James left town to join the Los Angeles Lakers. But, with how dynamic a threat Mitchell has become–putting together his best numbers since joining the Cavs–a serious debate could start to emerge if he keeps it up: Mitchell could contend with James for the best player to ever wear the Wine and Gold for Cleveland.

Mitchell's playoff accolades cannot hold a candle to what James has accomplished in the postseason, especially with the Cavs. Mitchell led Cleveland to a first-round embarrassment against New York. In contrast, James led the Cavs to four consecutive NBA Finals appearances, with a fifth appearance in 2007, and won arguably the most significant championship in NBA history. Nevertheless, while Mitchell's time in Cleveland hasn't been as long as James, the Cavs are headed on a path under Mitchell where one day could meet King James at the summit and challenge him for the throne.

So, with James set to face Mitchell in the 2024 NBA All-Star game, Cleveland's side has some additional intrigue. LeBron James is assuredly on his way to retiring soon while Donovan Mitchell is just entering his prime with the Cavs. Again, the narrative will shift more when the postseason starts and if Mitchell can take Cleveland to the same heights James once did.

But, this All-Star clash is more or less a passing of the torch moment where two superstars are on an unexpected collision course toward the pantheon of Cavs all-time greats.