Knicks lurking as Donovan Mitchell leaves door open after Jazz early exit

New York Knicks, Donovan Mitchell

In January, Fox Sports’ Ric Bucher reported a potential Donovan Mitchell homecoming to New York.

“They’re a first-round exit from Donovan being in New York,” an Eastern Conference scout told Bucher.

Fast-forward to late April, Mitchell’s future looms over the Utah Jazz after a first-round defeat at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks, who only had Luka Doncic for half of the series.

The speculations raged when the Knicks brass, alongside their star power forward Julius Randle, was front and center in the series opener.

Naturally, much of Mitchell’s postgame presser after another early postseason exit centered on his future with the team that drafted him.

When asked directly if he wanted to be in Utah, Mitchell had a succinct answer.

“Yeah,” Mitchell said, then quickly moved on to express the pain of another early playoff exit. “Yeah, I think we were given a chance to win. I think we fell short of our goal. This hurts. I’m not going to lie.”

After averaging 25.5 points on an inefficient 39.7 shooting from the field, Mitchell blamed himself for Utah’s downfall and a dreadful 20.7 percent shooting from deep in the first round. He credited the Mavericks’ ace defensive stopper Dorian Finney-Smith for making his life miserable in the series.

“This wasn’t my best year. As a fanbase and an organization, there are plenty of places to look, but I think it starts with me. I think if you want to put that blame or whatever you want to call it, it starts with me,” Mitchell said. “This will be a summer for me to put the work in and get back where I was.”

“I wasn’t where I wanted to be ultimately, and that’s what I take responsibility for. I know it’s a team sport, and there’s a lot of factors that go into it, but at the end of the day, I’ve got to be better.”

Mitchell’s future with the small-market team has been the favorite trade machine topic, especially after his fragile relationship with his co-star, three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, surfaced after the pandemic broke out. After they buried the hatchet in the training camp before last season, the cracks in their relationship resurfaced again in thinly veiled swipes at each other in postgame interviews at various points of the season.

Utah Jazz general manager Justin Zanik tried to put out the fire that is causing smoke to billow around the league during his end of the season presser Friday.

“They’ve given themselves to this team. They’ve given themselves to each other. All outside narratives are just a bunch of noise,” Zanik said. Internally, I see it every day. These guys care about each other.”

But Mitchell feels exasperated with the same results every year. When asked if he still believes the Jazz can win a championship with their current core, he couldn’t say directly that this team has run its course, but the tone was unmistakable.

“Honestly, I don’t know. And it’s nothing against the group. I just think we’ve come up short,” Mitchell said. “I think I would like to think that we can find a way, but by the same token, that’s not up to me.”

Mitchell and Gobert are likely headed to splitsville this summer as new Jazz CEO Danny Ainge will try to reshape the roster. Both the Jazz stars are entering the second year of their five-year extension. Between them, the Jazz would prefer to build around Mitchell, the flashy scorer from Westchester County in New York, unless he asks out.

“My mindset is to win,” Mitchell said. “Right now, I’m not really looking at that. I answered (Deseret News’ Sarah Todd’s) question, and you could take that. But for me, I just want to win, yo. Like, this hurts. And like I said, I’ll think about it in a week and go from there. But right now, I’m not thinking at all about that.”

Will Mitchell change tune a week from now?

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

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