RJ Barrett deal was Knicks Donovan Mitchell consolation

The Knicks organization is “shocked and disappointed” that it didn’t get its man, Donovan Mitchell, and he’s heading to Eastern Conference rivals, the Cavaliers.

Cleveland would make up the backcourt of Darius Garland and Mitchell and was significantly better on paper than the Knicks. “Jazz Stinger,” indeed.

Signs the Knicks never had a chance to make their best offer until Jazz president Danny Ainge fell in love with the Cavaliers’ package that included three unprotected first-round picks – Knicks Team president Leon Rose didn’t do that.

It’s no coincidence that the Knicks announced the official signing of RJ Barrett to extend his contract before ESPN broke the news of Mitchell joining Cleveland.

In fact, according to an NBA source, the Knicks’ current preference is not to sign Barrett’s massive extension, preferring to wait at least until the mid-October deadline to see him in training camp, or even July 1. Day restricts free agency.

Barrett’s drafting predates Ross and senior executive William Wesley’s time. Knicks general manager Scott Perry picked Barrett in 2019, and even then, it wasn’t consistent.

RJ Barrett #9 of the New York Knicks
The Knicks announced their RJ Barrett extension after losing to Donovan Mitchell.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

“They don’t want to pay RJ right now, they like RJ, but he’s not one of them,” the NBA source said. “The first choice is to trade him in a Donovan deal. A few weeks ago, if they had Donovan without Barrett, they wouldn’t pay RJ now.

Once the Knicks got wind of it and the Cavaliers had the lead on Mitchell, they took a step toward a deal with Barrett, sources said.

“They have to do something,” the source said.

The Knicks still thought they could make a deal and provide better draft funding without Barrett, but by then, Ainge’s talks with the Cavaliers had accelerated and the Knicks couldn’t regain control of their destiny.

The Knicks initially refused to give up three unprotected first-round picks if Barrett was in the trade, a decision Rose had to accept.

It’s unclear if three unprotected first-round picks were offered in a non-Barrett deal. ESPN reported that the Knicks’ best offer was two unprotected picks and a third top-four protected pick.

Knicks chief strategist Brock Aller was a former Cavaliers capitalist and friend of owner Dan Gilbert, so the Knicks presumably knew what the offer they faced. If they don’t, it’s a failure for the Knicks.

Ainge ends up receiving three first-round picks from the Cavaliers, two pick swaps, Collin Sexton, knee surgery, disappointing lottery pick Lauri Markkanen and a 2022 first-rounder Draft pick Ocha Agbagi.

Utah Jazz's No. 45 Donovan Mitchell
Donovan Mitchell is now with the Cavaliers, leaving the Knicks to figure out where to go next.
Getty Images

There was an opinion in the league that everything was equal, and Angie would rather have Mitchell off Broadway. Mitchell wants his hometown Knicks, and his chance to become a bigger star looms in the media capital. (Mitchell sounded excited on social media to add Garland in the backcourt).

“I think Danny was thinking, if he sent him to New York, he wanted to rob them,” said another NBA executive. “He knew how much they wanted him.”

Regardless of the details of the failed Mitchell trade, some league officials believe the Knicks missed a golden opportunity to acquire a homegrown star who wanted to play in New York. These opportunities don’t come up often.

“They didn’t get him, period,” an NBA person said.

In college, Barrett was known as the “Maple Mamba” — a moniker he no longer embraced after Bryant’s death. Now his nickname is “The Franchise,” after his four-year, $120 million extension, including incentives.

Rose’s statement called him “the core of our team’s foundation.”

“We believe he will continue to improve because of his passion for the game and dedication to his craft,” Rose added.

However, one team executive compared him to Tobias Harris, calling him “the third-best player on a competing team.”

“RJ Barrett is a skilled player who lacks the athleticism and physicality to be a franchise player, but his strengths are competitiveness, scoring skills and toughness,” the executive said. “But he needs better off-hand, off-ball work and consistency.”

The Knicks still have 11 first-round picks over the next seven years, though that number could drop once the NBA completes its investigation into alleged tampering with Jalen Brunson.

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