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NBA Insiders: NY Knicks ‘Whiffed on a Softball’ in Donovan Mitchell Trade Talks

Donovan Mitchell (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via G)etty Images

The Knicks had the chance to land a, marketable All-Star in Donovan Mitchell who specifically wished to go to NY, however the team passed over draft considerations.

“They whiffed on a softball,” an NBA source said. “The Knicks thought these were bidding against themselves. The [Cleveland] Cavaliers beg to differ.”

Per Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, the Cavaliers and Utah Jazz decided to a deal Thursday which includes five first-round picks (three unprotected, two swaps), Ochai Agbaji (No. 14 in June’s draft), Collin Sexton (via sign-and-trade) and Lauri Markkanen. That is clearly a substantial haul for the rebuilding Jazz, one the Knicks could have had a need to pay much price to beat.

“That are they saving their picks for?” asked one player agent. “[The Knicks] don’t genuinely have the patience to create through the draft. Are they getting someone much better than Donovan?”

The Knicks not merely have all seven of these own first-rounders available, however the franchise also offers four additional picks of varying protection from the Dallas Mavericks, Detroit Pistons, Milwaukee Bucks and Washington Wizards. With eight picks and three potential swaps, NY couldn’t outspend the Cavaliers?

That isn’t to suggest NY should give everything to Utah, however the Knicks must have found a compromise with the Jazz that exceeded Cleveland’s generous offer.

Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Perhaps team president Leon Rose really believed no-one else was in the running. For context, the Knicks used to willingly trade away draft consideration for what amounted to minimal playoff success. The franchise changed tactics when Phil Jackson took over and contains stayed true compared to that philosophy through multiple front-office changeovers. Holding tightly to picks has resulted in quality players and prospects like RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, Obi Toppin, Immanuel Quickley, Quentin Grimes, etc.

But that group didn’t make the postseason following the Knicks’ well-earned 2020-21 playoff appearance. Among the NBA’s premier franchises (by popularity), the team is suffering from too little star power. Or even Mitchell, will be the Knicks banking on Kevin Durant, almost 34, revisiting his trade demand? Would the Brooklyn Nets even consider sending him with their crosstown rival for a bounty of picks and prospects?

Mitchell, 25, was a bird in the hand. And it’s really nothing like the Knicks had no interest. Wojnarowski details the negotiations and their various roadblocks over players like Barrett, Quickley and draft considerations.

“Utah wanted three unprotected first-round draft picks within a package,” Wojnarowski wrote. “NY would only execute a third first-round pick that included top-five protections.”

That is the line the Knicks drew in the sand?

“NY planned to keep pursuing Mitchell,” Wojnarowski continued. “However the Jazz pivoted to the Cleveland discussion rather than again engaged NY in talks…Mitchell have been enthusiastic over playing for the Knicks.”

David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

Agent ties can influence player movement, but Mitchell is really a cautionary tale. He’s represented by CAA, as are recent signings Jalen Brunson and Isaiah Hartenstein, alongside returning players Julius Randle and Toppin. Before joining the Knicks, Rose was also a foundational basketball agent with CAA,

Fair or not, others round the league make reference to the franchise because the “CAA Knicks.”

Those ties could have resulted in overconfidence. Or possibly it’s simpler than that. Possibly the Knicks just honestly felt the purchase price was too much.

All-Stars go at market rate, and like the world, inflation is really a reality. Dating back to to the Anthony Davis trade from the brand new Orleans Pelicans to the LA Lakers to the recent Minnesota Timberwolves/Jazz blockbuster for Rudy Gobert, the purchase price for the league’s best talent has been skyrocketing.

The Knicks are on the list of few non-rebuilding teams with a bounty of picks. A disagreement could be made that NY shouldn’t build around a 6’1″ backcourt duo in Mitchell and Brunson. But why were the Knicks negotiating with the Jazz should they believed that has been the case?

If there’s very good news for struggling Knicks fans, the team kept its powder dry. The team still gets the means to create a transformative trade. The task will be discovering that opportunity. Top-flight talent doesn’t become available often in the NBA. When that point comes, if it comes, NY do not overplay their hand again.

Email Eric Pincus at and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.

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