Less than one season after trading away Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, the Brooklyn Nets passed on a chance to acquire another superstar this summer. With the Portland Trail Blazers' negotiations with the Miami Heat going nowhere, Damian Lillard’s agent phoned Nets general manager Sean Marks to tell him he was interested in a trade to Brooklyn.

Marks said thanks but no thanks, later citing Lillard’s advanced age as not fitting the Nets’ timeline. However, the GM left the door open for another star trade in the near future.

You never know when your window is gonna be,” Marks said. “Like, ‘Hey, we need to really go jump. We need to get right back into it.' We’ll wait for those opportunities.”

A quarter of the way into the 2023-24 season, that opportunity could soon reveal itself as Cleveland Cavaliers star Donovan Mitchell.

Donovan Mitchell could leave Cavs

Cavs star Donovan Mitchell

Mitchell has been rumored to be a flight risk in Cleveland since the organization traded Lauri Markkanen, Collin Sexton, Ochai Agbaji, three first-round picks, and two pick swaps for him ahead of last season. After a disappointing first-round exit against the New York Knicks, the Cavaliers are off to a lackluster 13-12 start.

To make matters worse, the team announced Friday that star guard Darius Garland suffered a fractured jaw Thursday and will miss at least four weeks, while Evan Mobley's left knee will require arthroscopic surgery that could keep him out for six to eight weeks. The disappointing start comes amid widespread belief that Mitchell, who is under contract for $34.8 million next season before a $37 million player option in 2025-26, will not sign an extension with Cleveland.

“I do not expect him to sign an extension with the Cavs this summer,” ESPN insider Brian Windhorst said in September on NBA Today.

This reality has sparked rumors that the Cavs could look to trade Mitchell ahead of this year's deadline, when he would still have the rest of this season and next on his contract, to maximize their return.

“I don’t think there's any chance he signs an extension there ever,” ESPN's Tim Bontemps said on The Hoop Collective this offseason. “And if it was up to me, I would trade Donovan Mitchell today, because I don’t the Cavs are getting as far as they hope to next year, I don’t think he’s going to extend, and I think they’ll get a lot more for him with two summers left than they would with one summer left.”

“I don’t really see any world where Donovan Mitchell wants to stay there after next season.”

Those rumors have gained steam amid Cleveland's slow start and Garland and Mobley's impending absences.

“Donovan Mitchell's long-term future with the franchise looms large. He can sign a lucrative contract extension over the summer, but could have last summer and there was no movement toward a deal between the two sides,” Shams Charania and Joe Vardon wrote Friday. “If he won’t commit to the Cavs beyond the next season, the team would likely have to trade him.”

“If the Cavs’ season is to be derailed by these two lengthy injuries to key players, the rest of the league will immediately turn toward the shores of Lake Erie to see if Mitchell is available even earlier.”

Nets, Knicks among potential Donovan Mitchell suitors

NBA, 2022 NBA free agency, Jazz, Nets, Suns, Lakers, Donovan Mitchell, Ben Simmons, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving

If Cleveland is to begin fielding offers for Mitchell, all eyes should turn to the Nets and New York Knicks, with the New York native long expressing interest in returning to play in his hometown.

“Everyone expects, and has expected, Donovan Mitchell to leave the Cavs in free agency,” Action Network's Matt Moore wrote Tuesday. “One name I heard from multiple sources to look out for if the Knicks can't get a deal done for Mitchell is the always-star-shopping Brooklyn Nets, who have a plethora of assets to get such a deal done.”

The Knicks have several young players, including RJ Barrett, Quentin Grimes, and Immanuel Quickley, to package with multiple first-round picks for Mitchell. However, they already have star point guard Jalen Brunson leading their offense. The team passed on trading for Mitchell last summer. It's unclear if they would pull the trigger this time around and build their roster around two undersized guards.

The Nets, on the other hand, are a cleaner fit, with breakout forward Mikal Bridges headlining the roster. Brooklyn could build a package around 6-foot-8 sharpshooter Cam Johnson and/or emerging guard Cam Thomas. After trading Durant and Irving, the team is armed with seven tradable first-round picks. That includes three distant unprotected firsts from Phoenix (2027, 2029) and Dallas (2029), which should be highly coveted.

Mitchell has averaged 28.1 points and 4.6 assists on 48/38/87 shooting splits in 88 games with Cleveland. Pairing the star guard with Bridges, both of whom are 27 years old, would give the Nets an extended window to find another star piece and fill out the rest of the roster.

Brooklyn is performing above expectations this season, opening the year 13-11 despite a slew of injuries and a difficult early schedule. Bridges has begun to regain his All-Star form from late last season, while Thomas is emerging as a high-level scorer alongside defensive anchor Nic Claxton and veterans Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith, Royce O'Neale and Johnson.

The Nets will continue to evaluate their roster in this transitional season. However, if Mitchell becomes available, expect them to reemerge as a candidate to jump back into the star market ahead of the trade deadline.