Knicks need a clear plan after Mitchell

New York Knicks forward Julius Randle

Donovan Mitchell is a Cleveland Cavalier despite the New York Knicks being clear favorites. Having by far the most assets to offer Utah, they failed to close a deal previously seen as a slam dunk in the industry. It seemed like destiny in large part due to Mitchell’s ties with CAA, Walt Perrin (the driving force for the Jazz to draft Mitchell), and Knicks assistant Jonny Bryant. Going beyond his connection to key Knick figures, he’s also a Westchester native and die-hard Met fan. He wanted desperately to come home and play for his hometown team. Yet it was the Cleveland Cavaliers who swooped in to land the multiple All-Star. This is a re-occurring theme for the Knicks, once again missing out on a franchise-changing player. It’s been the best part of a decade since Carmelo Anthony graced the Garden floor. One thing that is apparent when analyzing their front office moves, they seem stuck between rebuilding and trying to win simultaneously. It’s hard to do both. This is why the Knicks need a clear plan after Mitchell. 

They have young players to build around, and in fairness to Leon Rose, he landed the best Point Guard available in Jalen Brunson. He should make a considerable difference. There is enough talent for the Knicks to be a marginal play-in seed even without Mitchell. Prioritizing youth development is how they can pivot moving forward.

Let’s discuss the failed negotiations, and how the Knicks need to approach the upcoming season.

Knicks need to prioritize youth development after whiffing on Mitchell

Agreed Deal is a win for the Cavs

Cleveland Cavaliers: Donovan Mitchell

Utah Jazz: Lauri Markannen, Ochai Agbaji, and Collin Sexton along with the three unprotected firsts and two first-round pick swaps.

For me, the big winners here are Cleveland. There is a saying, that the team who lands the best player wins the trade. This sure looks like the case here. Mitchell joins a team with solid foundational pieces in place with Jarret Allen and Darius Garland alongside future star Evan Mobley. Landing Mitchell to play beside them may be the missing piece to put them over the top and make them a contender in the Eastern Conference. 

Mitchell is a top-15 talent in the game with his elite shot creation and scoring. He fits in well with a roster that has size and defense. Allowing him to handle the scoring load. Whereas, Mitchell’s fit with the Knicks roster was less certain.

This deal reportedly ruffled feathers within the Knicks organization, feeling that they had the better offer on the table. Many commentators tend to agree.

Insiders’ opinion on what caused the deal to collapse for the Knicks

Since the news broke that the Knicks failed to land Mitchell, many insiders for ESPN gave various accounts of what happened. According to Brian Windhorst of ESPN in his radio interview with Alan Hahn; there were a lot of high-level negotiations going on between the Knicks and the Jazz. It was delicate and there were times when there was “mudslinging” and “sensitivities” on both sides.

When Knicks front office officials sat courtside at the Jazz playoff game against the Mavs, this irked Utah according to Ian Begley of SNY. It may not have helped the Knicks in negotiations. However, I do not believe that Utah negotiated in bad faith as some fans have claimed. I feel, that the Jazz had a price and for various reasons, the Knicks didn’t wish to meet it.

According to Adrian Wojnarowski, the Knicks had several iterations of a potential deal, all of them including RJ Barrett. We hear differing reports from sources on the Jazz’s level of interest in Barrett. However, it seems they were higher on Quentin Grimes. It’s also safe to assume the Knicks were far higher on their players than the Jazz were. 

Most recently it was reported that a deal was close for Barrett, Obi Toppin, and two unprotected firsts with a third being top-five protected. However, Utah steadfastly demanded three unprotected firsts and Grimes. Rose was only willing to sub-in Immanuel Quickley.

Leon Rose thought he had the winning hand, incorrectly assuming they were competing with themselves for Donovan Mitchell. Seemingly the Barrett extension ended the talks, however.

Barrett and false deadline drama

As Wojnarowski reports, there was a deal to be done, with the sticking point being unconditional picks. However, my take is the RJ Barrett deadline and extension in the middle of negotiations doomed the deal. As Brian Windhorst said on Alan Hahn’s show, this was not the best-negotiating tactic and one which he hadn’t seen before.

Adding the false deadline annoyed the Jazz front office to the point they never re-engaged with the Knicks. Cleveland jumped at the opportunity and landed him. 

This feels like a misguided strategy for many reasons. I have trouble understanding why the Knicks dangled arguably their best prospect in Barrett unless they weren’t all-in on him. Accelerating their timeline to extend him gives a mixed message. 

Regardless, the Knicks should go young after Mitchell, and embrace their core.

Knicks fans are particularly excited about building around RJ Barrett, averaging 20 points per game last season. Proving to be their best player last year.

In fairness to the front office, his incentive-laden contract of 4 years $120 million; is reasonable for a high-upside talent. Every aspect of Barrett’s game is improving exponentially. Largely due to his supreme work ethic. However, he does not have elite athleticism, handles, or a consistent base when shooting, especially from the mid-range. These will all need to progress.

Whilst I disagree with how they handled Barrett during the negotiating process, the contract they signed is commendable.

Knicks need a clear plan after Mitchell

There are some positives for Knicks fans. They still very much have their young core intact. They also have all their draft assets which they carefully accrued.

Furthermore, New York’s front office has excelled at one thing, and that is finding value in the draft. Quickley and Grimes are high upside players found at the back-end of the first round. Toppin proved to be a solid player when starting at the end of last season. Averaging a solid 20 points per game as the starting Power Forward in place of Julius Randle

Also, by tying down draftees Mitchell Robinson and Barrett to extensions, they are signaling they wish to build around them. I also think Brunson is an underrated player.

This is where the Knicks should put their entire focus. They were unwilling to give up their young core to land a franchise-changing star, so they must build around them this year. This means Grimes must start, and Toppin needs serious minutes. The knicks need a clear plan after Mitchell by prioritizing their young players.

 

Leon Rose’s confused approach to rebuilding

A lot of what Leon is doing is a mixed narrative. He traded away their lottery pick in this draft, to free up cap room for Brunson. Also acquiring three future draft picks which are heavily protected. This tends to indicate they are saving them for a major trade. However, as we’ve seen with Mitchell, he held back in trade talks. 

Tom Thibodeau is a coach who prioritizes winning and playing their veteran’s major minutes. This feels contrary to where the Knicks are after failing to land Mitchell. Yet by trading out of the first round of the draft, they aren’t fully committed to youth either.

Furthermore, Leon Rose needs to make a decisive move at some point. 

He had an opportunity to land Dejounte Murray but passed and allowed him to go to the Hawks. Arguably, Murray was a better fit schematically than Mitchell due to his size and defense.

Rose also tried to trade up for Jaden Ivey and Chris Duarte

Also passing on DeMar DeRozan in favor of Evan Fournier. Incidentally, Fournier is now blocking Grimes in the lineup, even though Grimes was untouchable in trade talks for Mitchell.

Randle’s max extension continues to block Toppin who they invested a top-10 pick in. Once again indicating a mixed narrative. The Knicks need a clear plan after Mitchell.

Signing veteran Kemba Walker hurt them because they needed to attach a draft pick just to move him this off-season, along with the sunk cost of Nerlens Noel

Possibly the oddest decision was trading a first-round pick for Cam Reddish. As of now, it doesn’t appear he has a spot in Thibodeau’s rotation. Knicks need a clearer plan in their decision-making.

Suggestions on how the Knicks can get better

Time will tell at this point whether the Knicks were prudent or botched the Mitchell trade. I can understand both camps.

I’m of the belief since the Knicks very publically made it known they desired Mitchell, it’s not a good look that they lost out. Especially as they were the sole team negotiating for long periods.

Ian Begley reported, that there were many voices involved, especially consultant Gersson Rosas. It may be a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth. I would recommend a more streamlined approach. Especially with Scott Perry having more influence. Despite his title of GM, it appears that he is sidelined in this current set-up.

Next point: Thibodeau and the Front Office need to be in lockstep with a direction. It is no use to either side if one has a different agenda from the other. For instance, the Reddish trade which Thibodeau did not endorse.

They can still look prudent by going all-in on the younger players. Toppin, Grimes, Quickley, and Barrett can be foundation pieces alongside Brunson.

However, a team without any stars struggles to win games in this league. This is the conundrum for the Knicks. Their roster is solid but lacking, whilst their cap space is now maxed out. Whether they play Fournier and Randle serious minutes or not, this team is no better than a play-in seed. This is why the Knicks need a clear plan after Mitchell ended up in Cleveland. I would prioritize a potential Randle trade and focus on development until the next star is available.