Central Notes: Mitchell, Morris, Lillard, Nesmith

Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell addressed speculation about his future Friday night after returning to the lineup following a six-game absence due to a broken nose and knee issues, writes Joe Vardon of The Athletic. Speaking to the media for the first time since being sidelined, Mitchell said he wants to focus on the rest of the season and the playoffs rather than his contract.

“I think the biggest thing for me, as I said before to you earlier, I mean obviously you have to ask the question, but my focus is I got a lot of things to focus on outside of that right now,” he said. “I’ve got to focus on myself, getting back for this group, focus on us getting over this stretch, continuing to be ready when it comes time. So, I’ll handle that when it comes, and I understand you gotta ask that question and I’ll give you the same answer.”

The question is relevant because Mitchell will become eligible for a four-year extension this summer worth approximately $200MM. If he decides not to accept it, the Cavs may start looking for a trade to avoid the risk of losing him in free agency in 2025. There have been rumors for years that the New York City native would prefer to play at home, and Vardon notes that many other teams will also have offers ready for Cleveland if Mitchell becomes available.

Teammate Georges Niang and Cavaliers chairman Dan Gilbert recently expressed optimism that Mitchell will be part of the team’s long-term future, Vardon adds, with Gilbert indicating that the organization has been talking to Mitchell about an extension since he was acquired from Utah.

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • Even though he didn’t spend much time with his hometown Sixers, Cavaliers forward Marcus Morris is grateful that he got to play for them, according to Gina Mizell of The Philadelphia Inquirer. Philadelphia acquired Morris from the Clippers in early November, then shipped him to San Antonio at the trade deadline in February. After being waived by the Spurs, he agreed to a 10-day deal with the Cavs and signed for the rest of the season on Friday. “I built a really good relationship with those guys,” Morris said of the Sixers. “A lot of good things happened for me and my family while I was there. … They actually did me a favor by bringing me home, giving me an opportunity to check off something on my bucket list. I’m happy for them. Still watch them. I still connect with those guys. And I’m rooting for them — just not against us.”
  • Bucks guard Damian Lillard missed tonight’s game in Atlanta for personal reasons, and coach Doc Rivers told reporters he might not be available for Tuesday’s contest at Washington, per Jim Owczarski of The Journal-Sentinel. “Just miss the ‘when you need a bucket, you have Dame,'” Rivers said. “Also just running the team at times. It shortens your rotation again. Khris (Middleton) is still on a semi-minute restriction, even though we’ve ignored it a couple times. Just shortens your rotation.”
  • The Pacers defeated the Lakers Friday night, holding them to 60 fewer points than when the teams met over the weekend in L.A., notes Dustin Dopirak of The Indianapolis Star. A big part of the difference was the defensive effort by Aaron Nesmith, who committed just one foul while limiting LeBron James to 16 points. “I just stuck to the game plan,” Nesmith said. “He challenges you, but I just did a good job tonight.”
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