Very rarely does news truly break the Internet, but in the case of the trade which sent Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the often hyperbolic report rang true.
Many users on Twitter reported difficulty refreshing the app shortly after Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the story, one that was both inevitable and completely blindsiding. One of the game’s biggest names was on the move, signifying Utah’s complete surrender and bolstering Cleveland’s case as a legitimate Eastern Conference contender.
Yet a great deal of the discussion regarding the Mithcell trade did not involve Mithcell himself, the team he was joining, or the team he was leaving behind. Much of it focused on the team that did not acquire Mithcell: the oft-maligned New York Knicks.
There is an awful lot of talk about the Knicks, and it is seldom complimentary. To a degree, it makes sense. The team that makes its nest in the league’s biggest market is bound to draw scrutiny. But New York’s status as a playoff outsider in recent years has compounded their already complex reputation, as has their fanbase’s tendency to make bold claims about the bevy of stars waiting to don the blue and orange (have we forgotten, so quickly, the Kyrie Irving-Kevin Durant-Zion Williamson photoshops?) This combination of factors has made them a punching bag for pundits and fans alike.
Mitchell, a New York native, had been forecasted to The Big Apple since before armageddon had even befallen Utah. It was the perfect fit– a dynamic, explosive guard thriving in the mecca of the sport, providing the town the type of stardom it had not known since the departure of Carmelo Anthony.
The questions were obvious. What would the Knicks have to forfeit to acquire Mithcell? Would he elevate them to anything resembling a contender?
But these concerns served as mere conjecture to the success-starved fans of New York basketball, who viewed Mitchell’s arrival as both sensational and inevitable.
Initial reports of the Mithcell sweepstakes served only to placate the dreams of Knicks fans everywhere: New York was tagged as the top candidate, and there were no notable competitors. Even after initial talks stalled, the Knicks were reportedly “continuing to pursue,” Mitchell as recently as August 30.
That mirage of certainty was what made the news of the trade so pernicious. The moment Cleveland was announced as Mithcell’s destination, the NBA world erupted into a volcano of disbelief, primarily with how New York had managed to miss what appeared to be a wide-open fastbreak jam. For every take regarding the Cavaliers’ lethal young core or the Jazz’s newly loaded holster of draft picks, there were two making light of the Knicks and their eternal ineptitude.
But regardless of how prosperous Mithcell’s time in Cleveland turns out to be, or how badly the franchise faithful may have wanted him, missing out on Mitchell may not be the worst thing for the Knicks in the long-term. In order to acquire him, they would have had to immolate– to burn every prized asset they owned. And when considering all the circumstances, their defeat may have been a blessing in disguise.
Mitchell is nothing short of a phenomenal player. He is lethal with the ball in his hands, and frequently elevates his performance when it matters most (he is averaging 31.4 PPG over the last three postseasons.) And at just 25 years old, he is the type of piece that a franchise can pencil into their plans for the next decade. And yet, at this point in his career, he is still not quite the caliber of player that can single-handedly change the trajectory of an organization. He is not the type of player that teams should gut their roster for. He is not “can’t miss.”
Several of New York’s potential packages for Mithcell have surfaced, and to the disappointment of many Knicks detractors, few of them leave the reader wondering why New York did not offer more. According to Wojnarowski, in July, the Knicks proposed the following:
New York receives:
RJ Barrett, Obi Toppin, Mitchell Robinson, three unprotected first-round picks
This package is comparable, if not superior to the one the Jazz ultimately accepted from the Cavaliers. Wojnarowski also reported that the Knicks were still the leading candidate for the former Louisville star earlier this week, but “balked on including Quentin Grimes in a trade with RJ Barrett to acquire Mitchell.”
While Grimes is certainly not the type of player that is worth losing Donovan Mitchell over, the semantics of NBA trade talks are often more nuanced than they appear. There was also reported discussion of Immanuel Quickley as a substitution for Grimes, but with additional draft compensation in tow. Many will still contend that the Knicks should have done whatever was necessary to secure the deal, but at a certain point, mortgaging a team’s future in exchange for a sort-of superstar becomes a fool’s errand.