The Jazz appear to be headed for a break-up between stars Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. The Knicks could be beneficiaries of the turmoil, bringing the All-Star shooting guard home.

“It’s nothing against the group, I just think we’ve come up short. I think I would like to think that we can find a way, but [by] the same token, that’s not up to me. It’s not my decision to make that, so we’ll go on and see what happens.”

This is the point Donovan Mitchell has reached following another first-round playoff exit.

Mitchell and Rudy Gobert have been the pillars of a Utah Jazz title window, a window that feels like it is closing faster than anticipated. The first-round loss to the Dallas Mavericks marked the third time in four years that the Jazz went one-and-done in the postseason.

The exit would not be as big a deal had there not been rumors swirling ahead of the postseason that Mitchell and the Jazz could trend towards a divorce, should the Jazz’s season end early. The biggest problem plaguing the Jazz is the pairing of stars. 

The worst-kept secret in the league is that Mitchell and Gobert have as much love for each other as New Yorkers and Bostonians. On paper, the two are a proper pairing: a guard who can score the basketball and an impenetrable rim protector. What the real issue is between the two is something only someone in the Jazz building can answer. 

There was noticeable friction between them following Gobert’s infamous microphone moment, which ended up being the Archduke Franz Ferdinand moment for COVID in the NBA. Since then, beef between Utah’s top two players was brought up as much as the ‘08 Celtics bring up they won a championship.

The beef has appeared to have finally reached its crescendo, with Gobert being the one to make a demand: it’s either him or Mitchell moving forward. If Mitchell does want out of Salt Lake City, now is his chance.

It is hard to find a “perfect” situation for Mitchell from a basketball sense. Even with a meager 7.7 field-goal attempts per game, Gobert was a Defensive Player of the Year candidate who averaged 15.6 points per game and 14.7 rebounds. Any new team Mitchell goes to, he would have to share the love on offense.

Gobert’s gripe with his co-star is his lack of enthusiasm for defense, believing Mitchell’s explosiveness is on the downturn. For those who took in any games of the Jazz’s series against the Mavericks, can agree with Gobert on the defense part. There were moments down the stretch of games where Mitchell was not exactly locked in.

Gripes aside, Mitchell would be welcomed home with open arms by the Knicks. It would not just right an egregious wrong of choosing Frank Ntilikina over Mitchell in 2017, but it would give the team more star power, a mission Leon Rose and Wesley were specifically brought on to accomplish. The pair of power brokers were not brought in to patiently build, they were brought in to lure players of Mitchell’s caliber. The New York Knicks desperately need a Donovan Mitchell.

The franchise has been without a player who can score 25 points in his sleep since Carmelo Anthony. RJ Barrett appears to be well on his way, however, Mitchell is already there. The only absolute with a Mitchell trade is that Barrett must stay. If that means parting with every other meaningful asset, so be it.

Still, there are reasons to think before pulling the trigger on a what should be a no-doubt decision.

Explore the Unknown

Tom Thibodeau claims to distribute earned minutes. That turned out to be criminally false. Despite the good work he has done with the young players on the team, Thibodeau has brought them along too slowly. Beyond the frustration of watching veterans clog minutes, the best version of this roster has yet to play meaningful minutes together.

What do things look like with Immanuel Quickley starting at point guard? How sustainable is Obi Toppin’s production? These were the type of questions that should have been partially answered. The true value of Quickley or Toppin remains unknown. 

Talent aside, both clearly meshed well with RJ Barrett and are the type of players the team should surround Barrett with. The Knicks’ best bet for a quick turnaround is to speed things up with Barrett as the focal point, and one thing Quickley and Toppin excel in is running the floor.

A Mitchell trade that does not involve Barrett must then include almost anything else the Knicks have value at the moment. The Jazz don’t have to give in to Gobert’s ultimatum, and if they do, they are more likely going to want to keep Mitchell.

To persuade the Jazz, the Knicks would have to come over the top with an offer, starting with this year’s lottery pick, Quickley, and Toppin or Julius Randle. A move up from 11th overall would help, but not enough to avoid parting with multiple young players.

It’s not that Mitchell would not be worth the price, it just may not be as necessary. Barrett will be 22 years old when the season starts. If he picks up where he left off—a 20-point scorer—and improves further, maybe the team rides that out by amplifying the surrounding cast.

The tweak is as simple as playing Barrett with guys who want to run (Quickley and Toppin), guys he is familiar with (Cam Reddish) and fit best with (Mitchell Robinson, Quentin Grimes) to make a bottom seed. If it results in Barrett ascending higher, Reddish emerging as a player worth keeping around, and the development of the promising youth, it is worth it.

Stars Attract Stars

The best way to get multiple star players on your team is to start with one.

Mitchell’s game has moved beyond the arc more than ever, launching the third-most three-point attempts this season, trailing only Stephen Curry and Buddy Hield. That type of game would mesh nicely with the slashing Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, and even Julius Randle.

One would think Randle would be the center of the Knicks’ offer; however, pairing Randle with Gobert feels like an awkward pivot. Randle just had a nightmare shooting season, only worsening the optics of the trade, let alone the difference in value. That is why the more logical path is building a package built heavily on picks with the intent to salvage as many young players as possible.

In such a timeline where the Knicks are able to pull off such a move, they would be left with at least Barrett and Robinson. Barrett for obvious reasons, and Robinson because a Mitchell trade would mean Gobert is staying in Utah. That plus one or two young players leftover from the trade is a solid foundation to build toward contention.

Wish Upon Another Star

A team led by Mitchell and Barrett is exponentially better than Randle and Barrett. It is not a team that would fare well against the athletic defenders the Boston Celtics can throw on the perimeter or elude the length of the Milwaukee Bucks. A fully operational Brooklyn Nets team is above their weight, same for the Philadelphia 76ers.

Now might not be the time to swing. Zion Williamson in New Orleans remains the most intriguing, and increasingly possible, star option. The Knicks have acquired two-thirds of the Duke big three, and have the pieces to satisfy a talented Pelicans team for which Zion does not seem eager to play.

The bad teammate storyline, which generated a rare outburst from former teammate J.J. Redick, and the fact he has missed 141 games are fair reasons to doubt Zion’s desire to stay in New Orleans. 

Contract negotiations between the Pelicans and Zion are not expected to be easy. The team is not expected to offer the full five-year max, and will likely offer a Joel Embiid-like extension instead. Should Zion resume his role as basketball’s Incredible Hulk next, and make an All-NBA team, the cost for the Pelicans balloons up to as much as $234 million. That is a hefty commitment to consider for a player who has shown such disinterest towards the franchise.

“Obviously, that conversation is going to be one that will be a challenge,” Pelicans team president David Griffin said. “When it’s time to have that, we’ll have it. And right now what we’re focused on is him being healthy, and (being in) kind of elite condition to play basketball, and we’ll start there.”

One guy who will give not even a millisecond of a second thought is James Dolan. The chance to bring Zion to New York City would be a dream come true. The cost would still be significant, although Randle and a useful veteran like Evan Fournier have more appeal to the Pelicans, who would not be heading immediately into a remodel like the Jazz would be following a Mitchell trade.

It is easy to understand the angst to make a big move after the disappointment the season turned out to be, and the appeal of bringing Spida home is obvious. Seeing Mitchell become a constant presence in orange and blue, both at MSG and Citi Field, would be great—it just might not be worth the cost right now.

The Knicks have some more unknowns to work out before they cash in.


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