NBA trade discussions are rarely a clean, orderly process with a logical progression along a timeline. Trade talks are messy, offers ebb and flow, and what was on the table one day may not be the next.
It was that way with the Knicks’ pursuit of Donovan Mitchell.
Thursday the Jazz surprised the NBA world by trading Mitchell to the Cleveland Cavaliers for three unprotected first-round picks, the rights to two pick swaps, Lauri Markkanen, Collin Sexton, and Ochair Agbaji. While rumors of the Cavaliers having interest were out there, league sources NBC Sports spoke to called the Knicks clear frontrunners for Mitchell (everyone reported the same thing, Tim Bontemps’ ESPN poll of 15 executives and scouts saw 14 say he would land with the Knicks).
In the aftermath of that trade, reports came out about how close the Knicks got to Mitchell. Early in the process, the Knicks had put three unprotected picks plus RJ Barrett in a proposal, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.
At the start of trade talks in July, New York offered Utah a Donovan Mitchell package including RJ Barrett, Obi Toppin, Mitchell Robinson and three unprotected first-round picks, sources tell ESPN. Jazz turned down that offer and Robinson signed a $60M extension to stay w/ NY. https://t.co/3eDg2Mf7f1
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) September 2, 2022
Early in the process, in July, Danny Ainge and the Jazz wanted a bigger haul for Mitchell than they got for Rudy Gobert (three unprotected picks plus one top-five protected first-rounder). When the Knicks had that offer on the table early, the Jazz likely pushed for more.
But then the Knicks pulled back, and internally there was disagreement at Madison Square Garden about how much to offer for Mitchell. What they put on the table evolved.
According to league sources, the Knicks had some disagreement internally about what to include in the package that was presented to the Jazz. Ultimately the two unprotected picks and a third top-5 protected along with players was turned down.
— Sarah Todd (@NBASarah) September 2, 2022
Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports added details to what the Knicks’ final offer was going to be, then they pulled back.
Sources told Yahoo Sports a deal was close with the Knicks before New York balked at the last second, pivoting to give RJ Barrett a four-year extension. It would’ve included Barrett, Quentin Grimes, expiring contracts, two first-round picks, a top-four protected pick owed to the Knicks from Milwaukee in 2025, two pick swaps and two second-round picks.
The Knicks felt the price was too steep, sources said, and walked away.
Whether they walked away or put an artificial deadline of Monday to include Barrett in the deal, once the Knicks extended Barrett on Monday and largely took him out of play, the Jazz were frustrated. Ainge and Utah focused on a new dance partner.
The Cavaliers were aggressive and made their play. Whether the Knicks should have been more aggressive is up for debate. Mitchell is a star player with New York (and CAA) ties who wanted to come there, and the fan base wanted him. However, Mitchell and Jalen Brunson would have formed an undersized backcourt that was a defensive liability and would have put a lot of pressure on Mitchell Robinson and the front line (Cleveland, with high-level defenders along the front line in Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen, is better positioned to support an undersized backcourt). Mitchell would have made the Knicks better, but three unprotected picks better? It’s not a simple answer.
New York will get another shot at the next big free agent or superstar up for a trade because, well, they’re New York. The city comes with that advantage. Cleveland lacks that and needs to be strategic and aggressive. Cavs GM Koby Altman was — he made his play.
But at points, the Knicks did have bigger offers on the table.