The New York Knicks have emerged as the odds-on favorite to win the Donovan Mitchell sweepstakes.
After the Jazz have reportedly softened their stance — now listening to offers for their three-time All-Star guard — the expectation around the league is that the Knicks will try to put together a package to bring Mitchell home.
Like their prized free-agent acquisition, Jalen Brunson, Mitchell has deep ties connecting him to New York.
Mitchell was born in Elmsford, New York, developed into a solid prospect around the state, and frequented New York City’s most famous playground Rucker Park during summertime. He grew up a New York Mets fan, with his father, Donovan Mitchell, Sr. working his way up from their Minor League coach and manager to become the team’s senior director of players relations.
Mitchell is a client of Creative Artists Agency, where Leon Rose ran its basketball operations before becoming the Knicks president. He shares the same agent (Austin Brown) with Obi Toppin, another New Yorker and Rose’s first lottery pick. The Knicks also employ two former Jazz personnel who believed in him — Walt Perrin, who scouted him and traded for him during the 2017 Draft, and Johnnie Bryant, who trained him and became one of his closest friends in Utah.
But more than those ties that bind them, the Knicks have the collection of picks that the Jazz covet as they pivot to a complete rebuild with their eyes on the future, starting with next year’s draft headlined by French prospect Victor Wembanyama, viewed as a generational talent.
Jazz’s new CEO Danny Ainge, known as “Trader Danny” around the league, has squeezed five first-round draft picks from the Minnesota Timberwolves, an overpay for three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert. He expects nothing less than that in a potential Mitchell trade.
The Knicks have been there when they traded the farm for Carmelo Anthony, which got them to only the second round in the Eastern Conference in the last decade. Mitchell, who averaged 25.9 and 26.4 points in the previous two seasons, could become the Knicks’ first 25-point scorer after Anthony.
But unlike that time, the current Knicks front office has amassed four additional first-round picks on top of their own over the next seven years. It will be more than enough, and it’s the most any team linked to Mitchell has at their disposal.
ESPN’s insider Brian Windhorst reported on Get Up on Wednesday morning that Mitchell to the Knicks is inevitable and “it’s just a matter of what can be negotiated.”
Windhorst later said on Dan Patrick Show that the Jazz are leveraging the market to bait the Knicks into giving them a haul that would rival or even trump the Timberwolves’ package for Gobert.
“Executives in the league believe that everything the Jazz are gonna do between now and they trade Donovan Mitchell is an effort to get the Knicks to pay the most premium price,” Windhorst said in Dan Patrick Show.
“If you’re the Jazz, you’re thinking: ‘can we get the Heat involved enough, can we get the Nets and Suns in a three-way trade involved enough to get the Knicks to make a crazy bid?'”
Over the weekend, the Jazz have reportedly received an “insignificant” offer from the Heat for Mitchell, presumably headlined by Tyler Herro. A Bleacher Report story on Wednesday watered down Herro’s value as a trade centerpiece, with a poll from over two dozen NBA executives at Summer League this week indicating that Knicks’ RJ Barrett boasts a greater trade value across the league than the reigning Sixth Man of the Year.
But Ian Begley of SNY recently reported that Barrett, who is extension-eligible like Herro, is off the table for the Knicks.
Ainge and the Jazz know the Knicks have been waiting for a superstar to become available. It is an open secret that the Knicks also like Mitchell. But after they snagged Brunson, who outplayed Mitchell in the playoffs, it is unclear if the Knicks still want him for the hefty price tag that could strip down their young core.
A Mitchell-Brunson backcourt pairing will not vault the Knicks into the upper echelon of the East. But will the idea of Mitchell ending up with their crosstown rival Brooklyn Nets, a PR disaster waiting to happen for Rose and co., force them to pull the trigger and cash in their assets for the Jazz All-Star guard?
The Jazz can bait the Knicks. But if there’s anything we’ve learned about Rose’s regime during its first two years, the Knicks are no longer the same organization that will lustily trade for a superstar.
Rose’s patient approach will be tested.
Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo