Ever since the Knicks dealt Patrick Ewingthey’ve searched for their next franchise savior in what’s now been two decades of mediocrity. Carmelo Anthony provided a few nice seasons, but not the success fans hoped for, and a carousel of draft picks and other acquisitions have come and gone without coming close either.
Once again New York finds itself desperate for a star following another disappointing year, only this time they might have a real case. Donovan Mitchell is 25 years old, coming off his third-consecutive All-Star season and fifth leading his postseason-usual Utah Jazz in scoring.
Unlike past misses, Mitchell has strong ties to the Knicks and potentially a real urge to exit his current situation. He grew up rooting for them just outside of the city, his family still lives in the area, he knew associate head coach Johnnie Bryant back when he was in Utah, and with this latest first-round bounce, Mitchell left his future open to the possibilities while Rudy Gobert reportedly asked the Jazz to decide between the two.
Unfortunately for the Knicks he won’t be a free agent until 2026, but if he requested a trade, they’d certainly be in play. There would undoubtedly be many suitors for the gifted Mitchell, but putting aside if the Knicks can outbid them, should they? And what would such a deal look like?
To quantify this, we need an approximation of Utah’s cost. Mitchell is a young star locked in for the future, not the type of player that hits the trade market often.
It’s difficult to find an apt comparison. The Lakers traded a haul for Anthony Davis a few years ago, but he was a bonafide top ten (or higher) player at the time, which Mitchell is not. Mitchell’s also more valuable than some of the recent All-Stars changing jerseys such as Ben Simmons, CJ McCollum or Domantas Sabonis.
The answer lies between those kinds of packages: a hefty multi-pick, multi-player deal that isn’t a complete teardown. There are two major sticking points for the Knicks: how do they match salaries, and do they trade RJ Barrett?
The first question comes down to how highly do the Jazz value Julius Randle. He’s the highest earner on the Knicks and can be sold as an All-Star level replacement for Utah, though that’s tougher after this season.
Randle gets them most of the way there to matching Mitchell’s salary, but an alternative, should Utah prefer it, is making up that amount with some combination of Evan Fournier‘s, Derrick Rose‘s and Alec Burks‘s salaries. This allows the Jazz to bring in shorter-term deals, maintaining flexibility, at the cost of raw talent, which they could theoretically make up by asking for more of the Knicks’ young guns.
None of which would be more prized than Barrett, who if the Knicks considered untouchable in any Mitchell deal, would be understandable. He’s just 21 years old, taken strides in each of his three seasons, and is due to become the first Knicks rookie extended since Charlie Ward.
New York may flatly have to pass if the price is Randle, Barrett and change. This would leave them with Mitchell and just a semblance of their young core, not ideal unless they have intel on another star joining. Even then, it’s a complete teardown of the culture they’ve been building for two seasons.
Trading neither for Mitchell would be some feat. They’d have to move Fournier, Obi Toppin, Immanuel Quickley, Quentin Grimeslikely somebody else along with a trove of picks, if that were even enough.
That leaves packaging Barrett, picks, additional prospects and veterans for Mitchell, or doing a Randle and rebuilding assets deal as realistic options that can net the Knicks their star without erasing their team. While the no-brainer at face value is trading Randle over Barrett, that’s likely to come at more of an overall cost, and some questions.
First, how would Mitchell and Barrett fit? Stylistically the two are nearly identically offensively, ball-dominant, downhill attackers off the pick-and-roll or other actions. Barrett has shown to be effective in a smaller role, but the Knicks may be uninterested in deferring his ascension. Defensively, there are still a number of questions surrounding both players.
If they can manage to hold onto Toppin, they could form an uber-athletic run-and-gun offense between the three of them and whatever point guard pilots the team, which somewhat alleviates the fit concern.
Mitchell and Randle are theoretically a cleaner fit. The Knicks can pair Barrett and Toppin as the fulcrum of the package, and hope rioters don’t burn MSG down for long enough to ideally make the Playoffs. Randle could benefit from being reduced to the number two or 1B guy, and the Knicks would retain enough of their young core to build some depth around their stars.
This all may be moot if Mitchell decides to stay, or if the Knicks find the above prices too high for their liking. Not trading for Mitchell has its merits, even if it means the rebuild drags on a bit longer.
New York has a number of promising young players with another on the way. Zach LaVine’s impending free agency unnerves Bulls fans, and his shooting could make him a better fit along this Knicks cast.
Whichever way they go, the Knicks have some major decisions to make this summer. None of which are easy, even in trying to secure a star that can take you to the next level.