‘Trader Danny’ Ainge is not settling for less than what the Utah Jazz got for Rudy Gobert in a potential mega-deal for Donovan Mitchell. But the New York Knicks, at least since Leon Rose assumed power, has this knack of wanting to win every transaction.
It is a combustible mix, so it is not surprising if the trade negotiations could drag into weeks or even months, or worst, it could even fall apart.
Both teams can claim they have the leverage.
Mitchell is under contract for four more years (with the last year as a player option), and the Jazz are posturing they will keep him if their hefty price isn’t met. But they have already shown their hand in the Gobert trade, collecting five first-round draft picks to kickstart a rebuild. They are looking to top that with a historic haul — at least six first-round picks — from the Knicks if they are to move on from their 25-year-old, three-time All-Star guard.
On the other hand, the Knicks have a fallback option in Jalen Brunson, who badly outplayed Mitchell in the last NBA playoffs and signed to a six-figure, long-term deal to be their lead guard. But the Knicks’ trump card is that, so far, they are the only interested team in Mitchell that have the draft equity to meet Utah’s demands.
The Jazz reportedly set the parameters of the negotiation with a potential package that doubled the Gobert haul.
“The two teams have had substantial talks. They’ve had ongoing talks. There was a feeling that things were a little bit close as late as Tuesday night, but the Knicks, according to my sources, kind of backed away,” The Athletic’s Jazz beat reporter Tony Jones said Thursday on ESPN 700 in Salt Lake City. “I have some sources telling me that Danny Ainge is asking for everything but the Statue of Liberty.”
“I had a really good source tell me that the Jazz have asked for at least six of New York’s eight tradable first-round picks and all of New York’s high-impact young guys. So that will be Quentin Grimes, Immanuel Quickley, Obi Toppin, and Miles McBride. The Jazz do not want to take back RJ Barrett in this deal because they don’t want to pay him. They want to go young, so they’re looking for picks and rookie-scale young players.”
It is essentially nine first-round picks, counting their reported top target Grimes, Quickley and Toppin. While the Knicks could have kept RJ Barrett in that proposed deal, they would have been left with a top-heavy roster but a shallow bench that would not be enough to contend in the loaded Eastern Conference.
The Knicks reportedly made a significant counter-offer to keep some of their youngsters and draft picks, which the Jazz did not accept.
While no deal has been reached, the negotiation is still alive.
“They’ll continue to talk to those around the league. I would expect New York and Utah to revisit it, perhaps that conversation in the coming weeks,” ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said on NBA Today. “But this is not a process that is a back-and-forth negotiation and an everyday thing. It’s not that. There’s certainly a lot of interest in Mitchell around the league.”
The Knicks’ only threat so far have been the Heat, who reportedly put together an underwhelming package with only three first-round draft picks and the reigning Sixth Man of the Year Tyler Herro as the headliner. Pat Riley’s wild card is to rope a third team to supply the required draft picks to Utah. But until the Heat can find that team, the Knicks are in pole position.
“One thing you know about, especially with Danny Ainge at the top of Utah, is he does deals, historically, when he feels like he’s got the decisive advantage and return… I think it’s going to be the same thing with Donovan Mitchell,” Wojnarowski added. “But New York is a motivated suitor.”
Ainge built the foundation of last season’s NBA Finalist Boston Celtics by fleecing the Brooklyn Nets in the infamous trade for over-the-heels Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. He flipped those Nets picks into Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
Ainge hopes to repeat that in Utah with the Gobert trade with Minnesota and whoever wins the Mitchell sweepstakes.
On the other hand, Rose has the most important decision to make that could define his legacy as an NBA executive.
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