Donovan Mitchell trade: Knicks whiff on another star, but RJ Barrett and future flexibility worth more

Donovan Mitchell appeared to be abruptly traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday, and the low-key fallout from the New York Knicks will spark a chase for another superstar. This is not an unreasonable takeaway. The Knicks eventually had to actually catch one of these big fish they’ve been chasing.

But the wrong deal can be just as important to a franchise as the right one. Of all the stars the Knicks have pursued to varying degrees lately, are we sure Mitchell is the right fit?

First, are we sure Donovan Mitchell is a superstar? he’s good. when attacking. He’s proven himself to be a great playoff player, and that’s important. But Mitchell-Jalen Brunson’s backcourt sounds very small and defensively fragile. If the Knicks waive RJ Barrett in a trade to acquire Mitchell, plus Quentin Grimes or a third protected future first-round pick, which Utah reportedly wants, this Will largely hinder their ability to chase another All-Star down the line.

So if the Knicks lineup that includes Mitchell is closer to the finished product, how good is the Mitchell-Brunson pairing, especially without Barrett’s size and defensive support? In that case, you’d better hope Julius Randle is back as an All-Star, and even then you’re likely to see a low-end playoff team at best in a fully stacked Eastern Conference middle.

The trade Utah got from Cleveland — Collin Sextion, Lauri Markannen, 2022 No. 14 pick Ochai Agbaji, three unprotected first-round picks, and the right to exchange two future picks — was New York willing to offer The better deals, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, are as follows:

Utah wants three unprotected first-round picks as part of package when guard Emanuel Quickley is proposed to replace Grimes in trade — but New York will only make third Round picks, which include top-five protections, sources said. Those packages will include two second-round picks, two pick swaps and two expiring contracts from a third team, sources said. New York will move Evan Fournier and a first-round pick to a third team to prevent Utah from accepting Fournier’s remaining $37 million, sources said.

Danny Ainge is a proven thief in these negotiations, and to me New York is smart enough not to give in. Then again, Mitchell is really good. But how good? While his purchase price won’t empty New York’s basket (it has eight trade-eligible future picks), it will only leave three future picks — of debatable value — available for future trades Negotiations, and it could be a few years before Oklahoma City and Houston are ready to knock out offers from everyone else.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that the Knicks will be explicitly misled to go all-in on Mitchell. New York reportedly thinks the Brunson-Mitchell duo will attract another star. It’s debatable, as is whether the Knicks have the resources to add a third star, even if it’s already a target.

Ultimately, if the Knicks can keep Barrett, I’d support adding more unprotected picks to get Mitchell. I think Barrett can develop into an All-Star, and if Brunson becomes an All-Star, your Big Three will come. If he doesn’t, you can pack him with the remaining draft picks to pair with Mitchell and Barrett as a senior replacement. Or you could trade Barrett. This will be enough wiggle room to still feel comfortable.

but give up on Barrett and A pile of unprotected pickaxes is a bridge too far.Mitchell is not That great. Knicks fans will or should see them in a pretty decent position to go forward when the disappointment of snubbing another star fades. Brunson may be an overpayer, we’ll see, but he’s a very good player who takes the ball away from Randle’s monopoly. Barrett now has time to continue his development, and most importantly, these eight future trade-eligible picks are still in the holster.

By 2025, when new TV deals kick in, there could be a huge cap spike, and it could be a couple of years before New York has anything close to the max space. At that point, Brunson will have a player option. If he’s worth it, you extend him. Otherwise, he will be a trader. That’s called flexibility, and to me, it’s better than draining your asset pool and overextending yourself to make Mitchell the No. 6 seed.

I’ll reiterate this one last time: Reasonable people may disagree with this position I’ve taken. The Knicks have to get a real star at some point, and Mitchell is one. In my opinion, he’s not a superstar, but he’s a legitimate star. It’s understandable if you think the Knicks should give up more unprotected picks and/or Barrett before thinking about the rest, especially with Houston and the Thunder being monsters of trade ace a few years down the line. This isn’t where I fell, but it’s not a clear-cut situation. Either way, it’s a tough decision. Only time will tell if the Knicks made the right choice.

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