In recent weeks, the New York Knicks seemed to be the
frontrunner in the Donovan Mitchell sweepstakes. The Knicks were in
advanced talks with the Utah Jazz, and a deal seemed likely. Then,
on Thurday, the Cleveland Cavaliers pulled off a blockbuster trade
for Mitchell, giving up Collin Sexton, Lauri Markkanen, Ochai
Agbaji, three unprotected first-round picks (2025, 2027 and 2029)
and two pick swaps (2026 and 2028).
How did the Knicks fail to land their superstar target?
According to The Athletic’s Shams Charania,
Utah’s final counter-offer was RJ Barrett, Immanuel Quickley,
another young player (presumably Obi Toppin), three unprotected
first-round picks and two pick swaps. New York (understandably)
declined this monster asking price. As ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski noted,
the Knicks refused to include Quentin Grimes alongside Barrett in
any potential package.
With Mitchell in New York, Madison Square Garden would’ve been
buzzing in a way that we haven't seen since Carmelo Anthony first
arrived from the Denver Nuggets in 2011. However, looking back on
the 'Melo Era, was that blockbuster really worth it in the end? The
team never became a legitimate title contender throughout Anthony's
Mitchell would've instantly become the Knicks’ biggest star
since Anthony, but how high would the team's ceiling have been? At
best, the Knicks probably would've been a middle-seed in the
reloaded Eastern Conference. On paper, here’s what the Knicks’
rotation would’ve looked like had they accepted Utah’s immense
Starters: Jalen Brunson, Donovan Mitchell, Evan
Fournier, Julius Randle, Mitchell Robinson
Second Unit: Derrick Rose, Quentin Grimes, Cam Reddish,
At best, this feels like maybe a No. 6 seed next season. And
with all of the picks that the Knicks would've parted with, it
becomes a massive all-in bet that another star would want to join
Mitchell in New York over the next few years.
Sound familiar, Knicks fans?
Looking back on the negotiations between New York and Utah, the
Knicks may have been saved from themselves in the end. Barrett
being the centerpiece of the package is stunning, as it was assumed
that he would play a pivotal role alongside Mitchell long-term.
Without Barrett, the Knicks were seemingly comfortable betting on a
New York's refusal to part with three unprotected first-rounders
is why Mitchell didn't land in the Big Apple. The Knicks weren't
comfortable matching the price that the Cavaliers ultimately paid —
three unprotected first-round picks (2025, 2027, 2029) and two pick
swaps (2026 and 2028) — because they knew that the remaining core
wouldn’t be enough to seriously compete in the East. New York
wanted to save some of their draft picks and young assets for when
the next star becomes disgruntled down the road.
Knicks president Leon Rose held firm and didn't give in to Danny
Ainge’s demands. In the end, Cavaliers GM Koby Altman swooped in
and took advantage, building an underrated powerhouse with long-term
sustainability. Cleveland had the infrastructure in place to
feel comfortable gambling away their top draft picks through 2029
on Mitchell, who will now be insulated by a formidable defensive
duo in Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen. Darius Garland’s presence at
point guard takes pressure off of Mitchell and allows him to focus
solely on what he does best.
All in all, Mitchell's on-court fit in Cleveland is perfect —
much better than his fit in New York. In the short-term and
long-term window, Mitchell has a far better chance of reaching his
ceiling within the Cavaliers’ environment versus trying to carry
the Knicks’ young core on a team with little flexibility moving
Now, after another failed star pursuit, what's next for New
York? They still have the assets to strike whenever the iron
becomes hot. Armed with eight first-round picks between 2023 and
2026 thanks to their draft-night trade with the Oklahoma City
Thunder, the Knicks still find themselves in a good position even
though Mitchell isn’t donning orange and blue.
The long-term answer is staring Rose and Co. right in the face:
betting on their young core to take much-needed steps forward, most
notably Barrett and Grimes. While head coach Tom Thibodeau may not
be a fan of this idea, prioritizing the development of their young
core must now take center stage. Allow Barrett, Grimes, Quickley,
Toppin and Brunson to play as many minutes together as possible.
Moving veterans such as Julius Randle and Evan Fournier would make
sense, as they don't seem to fit with this Knicks team. Dealing
both for the best offer on the table would clear the runway for the
young guys. Having a larger sample size to evaluate will only help
New York as they make decisions about their cornerstones.
Will Barrett become an All-Star after signing a four-year,
$120-million extension? Can Grimes and Toppin carve out starting
spots and thrive in a larger role? As Brunson enters his prime, can
he improve the players around him?
At the moment, the Knicks are stuck in the middle, and they've
reached a proverbial fork in the road. While the summer-long chase
of Mitchell didn't amount to anything, the deal falling apart may
have been for the best. If the Knicks actually paid up and matched
the Cavs' offer, it’s fair to wonder whether that move would've set
the organization back — especially since the team wouldn't have
been a contender.
Missing out on Mitchell must sting for the Knicks and their
fans. However, they weren’t one big splash away from becoming a
formidable contender. Even with Brunson and Mitchell, they would've
still been in the market for a third star. Handing over all of
their juiciest assets for Mitchell would've hamstrung the Knicks
and made it difficult to build a winner around the New York