Donovan Mitchell was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday, seemingly out of nowhere, and the low-hanging fallout story for the New York Knicks will spill over into another superstar chase. It’s not an unreasonable takeaway. The Knicks eventually have to hook one of these big fish that they’re always dragging.
But the wrong deal can affect a franchise just as much as the right one. Of all the stars that have been chasing the Knicks to varying degrees lately, are we sure Mitchell would have been the right one to land?
First, are we sure Donovan Mitchell is a superstar? He is very good. In violation. He has proven himself to be a great playoff artist, and that must be very important. But a Mitchell-Jalen Brunson backcourt sounds very small and defensively vulnerable. If the Knicks had given up RJ Barrett in a deal to take over Mitchell, plus either Quentin Grimes or a third protected future first-round pick, which was reportedly what Utah wanted, it would affect their ability to win another All-Star. chasing have largely hindered. along the line.
So if a Knicks roster with Mitchell is closer to a finished product, how good is a Mitchell-Brunson pairing, especially without the size and defensive support of a Barrett? In that scenario, you better hope Julius Randle turns back into an All-Star, and even then you’re probably looking at a lower playoff team, at best, in a fully stacked Eastern Conference.
The deal Utah got from Cleveland — Collin Sextion, Lauri Markannen, 2022 No. 14 overall pick Ochai Agbaji, three unprotected first-round picks and the right to two future pick swaps — is a better deal New York was willing to offer, which, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, was as follows:
When guard Immanuel Quickley was proposed to replace Grimes in the trade, Utah wanted three unprotected first-round draft picks as part of the package — but New York would only do a third first-round pick that included top-five protections, sources said. Those packages would include two second-round picks, two pick swaps and two expiring third-team contracts, sources said. New York would have moved Evan Fournier and the first round to a third team to save Utah the remaining $37 million from Fournier, sources said.
Danny Ainge is a certified thief in these negotiations, and New York, to me, was smart not to give in. Again, Mitchell is really good. But how good? While the price of its acquisition wouldn’t have emptied New York’s basket (it has eight eligible future picks), it would have left only three future picks — of moot value — to enter into future trade talks with, and Oklahoma City and Houston will probably be ready to dust off everyone else’s offers in a few years.
Be clear, I’m not saying that the Knicks would have been unequivocally misled into going all-in on Mitchell. New York reportedly believed that a Brunson-Mitchell duo would have attracted another star. That’s debatable, as if the Knicks would have had the resources to add that third star even if one had emerged as a target.
Ultimately, if the Knicks could have kept Barrett, I would have been in favor of adding more unprotected picks to get Mitchell. I think Barrett can develop into an All-Star, and that’s your Big 3 if Brunson turns out to be an All-Star player. If he doesn’t, you can pack him with the leftover picks for a high-level replacement to pair with Mitchell and Barrett. Or you can trade Barrett. This would have been enough wiggle room for you to still feel comfortable.
But give up on Barrett and a pair of unprotected guitar picks was a bridge too far. Mitchell not That big. When the disappointment of sniffing at another star wears off, Knicks fans will see or need to see that they’re in a pretty good position to move forward. Brunson is potentially overpaid, we’ll see, but he’s a very good player and he takes the ball out of Randle’s monopolizing hands. Barrett now has time to continue developing, and most importantly, those eight future commercial-eligible draft picks are still in the holster.
Add in a potential huge spike in 2025, when the new TV deal kicks off, and New York could also be a few years away from something nearly maxing out. At that point, Brunson has a player option. If it’s worth it, renew it. If not, it becomes a trading piece. That’s called flexibility, which to me is better than exhausting your asset pool and overloading yourself for Mitchell to be just a number 6 seed.
I’ll repeat this one last time: reasonable minds may disagree on this stance I’ve taken. The Knicks have to get a real star at some point, and Mitchell is a star. He’s not a superstar in my opinion, but he’s a legit star. If you think the Knicks should have given up more unprotected picks and/or Barrett and invent the rest later, especially with Houston and OKC lurking as trade trumping monsters in a few years, that’s understandable. It’s not where I fall, but this is not an obvious situation. Anyway, this was a tough decision. Only time will tell if the Knicks made the right choice.