After agreeing to terms on a four-year contract extension with RJ Barrett, the Knicks effectively took their best young talent out of the mix of a potential trade package for Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell. But they have not ended their ability to pursue the three-time All-Star.
Before agreeing on the extension worth as much as $120 million the Knicks had floated trade packages centered around Barrett. Some in the organization were not sold on paying him this sort of contract extension and others saw his inclusion as a way to limit the additional assets needed to make a trade for Mitchell. But with a poison pill provision built into the new contract that severely limits the Knicks' ability to deal him, Barrett appears to be a part of their immediate future.
But the Knicks are not done with pursuing Mitchell, whom the Jazz still are expected to attempt to deal as they embark on a rebuild. The teams instead are left to try to piece together a different form of a deal. The Knicks still have what the Jazz want most — a surplus of first-round draft picks and young, low-cost players.
The starting point for any deal likely will include Quentin Grimes and Obi Toppin — and the Knicks' hesitance to include Grimes may have been eased by having Barrett in place. And Toppin, despite being a lottery-pick selection by the current front office, is expendable with little room for his minutes to increase as the team has not moved Julius Randle out of the starting role, re-signed Mitchell Robinson and added Isaiah Hartenstein to the frontcourt.
To make the money work the Knicks will need to include one of their more onerous contracts — Evan Fournier and the two years remaining worth $37 million the most likely one the Knicks would be inclined to deal. The other possibility is that the two teams could add a third team to the mix with the Lakers a possibility. The Lakers are a team that would like to add a shooter like Fournier and has assets that could head to Utah with their 2027 and 2029 first-round picks and the expiring contract of Russell Westbrook.
But the more pressing decision for Knicks president Leon Rose and his front office is just how much value do the Knicks place on the first-round draft picks they have stockpiled. The Knicks have all of their own first-round picks and four from other teams — three next summer from Dallas, Detroit and Washington and the Milwaukee Bucks' 2025 first-rounder.
But the Dallas, Detroit and Washington picks are all heavily protected and will either be mid-to-late first-rounders or eventually become second-round picks. So including those is not a deal-breaker, but also not what Jazz CEO Danny Ainge is seeking. Utah is looking for unprotected first-round picks similar to what they got from Minnesota in the Rudy Gobert deal and the Knicks can include up to four of them (every other year). But just because they can doesn’t mean that they should.
While Mitchell would undoubtedly be an upgrade in talent his fit in New York remains problematic. Pairing him with Jalen Brunson would give the team two undersized guards in a league that has moved in the direction of taller, more positionally versatile players. Adding him to the Knicks does not look like the sort of move that would push the team into contention. He would give them a valuable asset, but if it costs the team all of their draft assets moving forward it restricts future deals they could make.