Donovan Mitchell (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via G)etty Images
The Knicks had the opportunity to land a young, marketable All-Star in Donovan Mitchell who specifically wanted to go to New York, but the team passed over draft considerations.
“They whiffed on a softball,” an NBA source said. “The Knicks thought they were bidding against themselves. The [Cleveland] Cavaliers beg to differ.”
Per Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, the Cavaliers and Utah Jazz agreed to a deal Thursday that includes five first-round picks (three unprotected, two swaps), Ochai Agbaji (No. 14 in June’s draft), Collin Sexton (via sign-and- trade) and Lauri Markkanen. That’s a substantial haul for the rebuilding Jazz, one the Knicks would have needed to pay a heavy price to beat.
“Who are they saving their picks for?” asked one player agent. “[The Knicks] don’t really have the patience to build through the draft. Are they getting someone better than Donovan?”
The Knicks not only have all seven of their own first-rounders available, but the franchise also has four additional picks of varying protection from the Dallas Mavericks, Detroit Pistons, Milwaukee Bucks and Washington Wizards. With eight picks and three potential swaps, New York couldn’t outspend the Cavaliers?
That’s not to suggest New York should give everything to Utah, but the Knicks should have found a compromise with the Jazz that exceeded Cleveland’s generous offer.
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Perhaps team president Leon Rose really believed no one else was in the running. For context, the Knicks used to willingly trade away draft consideration for what amounted to minimal playoff success. The franchise changed tactics when Phil Jackson took over and has stayed true to that philosophy through multiple front-office changeovers. Holding tightly to picks has led to quality players and prospects like RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, Obi Toppin, Immanuel Quickley, Quentin Grimes, etc.
But that group didn’t make the postseason after the Knicks’ well-earned 2020-21 playoff appearance. As one of the NBA’s premier franchises (by popularity), the team suffers from a lack of star power. If not Mitchell, are the Knicks banking on Kevin Durant, almost 34, revisiting his trade demand? Would the Brooklyn Nets even consider sending him to their crosstown rival for a bounty of picks and prospects?
Mitchell, 25, was a bird in the hand. And it’s not like the Knicks had no interest. Wojnarowski details the negotiations and their various roadblocks over players like Barrett, Quickley and draft considerations.
“Utah wanted three unprotected first-round draft picks as part of a package,” Wojnarowski wrote. “New York would only do a third first-round pick that included top-five protections.”
That’s the line the Knicks drew in the sand?
“New York planned to continue pursuing Mitchell,” Wojnarowski continued. “But the Jazz pivoted to the Cleveland discussion and never again engaged New York in talks…Mitchell had been enthusiastic over playing for the Knicks.”
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Agent ties can influence player movement, but Mitchell is a cautionary tale. He’s represented by CAA, as are recent signings Jalen Brunson and Isaiah Hartenstein, along with returning players Julius Randle and Toppin. Before joining the Knicks, Rose was also a foundational basketball agent with CAA,
Fair or not, others around the league refer to the franchise as the “CAA Knicks.”
Those ties may have led to overconfidence. Or maybe it’s less complicated than that. Perhaps the Knicks just honestly felt the price was too high.
All-Stars go at a market rate, and like our world, inflation is a reality. Dating back to the Anthony Davis trade from the New Orleans Pelicans to the Los Angeles Lakers to the recent Minnesota Timberwolves/Jazz blockbuster for Rudy Gobert, the price for the league’s best talent has been skyrocketing.
The Knicks are among the few non-rebuilding teams with a bounty of picks. An argument can be made that New York shouldn’t build around a 6’1″ backcourt duo in Mitchell and Brunson. But why were the Knicks negotiating with the Jazz if they believed that was the case?
If there’s good news for struggling Knicks fans, the team kept its powder dry. The team still has the means to make a transformative trade. The challenge will be finding that opportunity. Top-flight talent doesn’t become available often in the NBA. When that time comes, if it comes, New York better not overplay their hand again.
Email Eric Pincus at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.