HoopsHype’s Michael Scotto and Knicks beat writer Stefan Bondy share behind-the-scenes intel from the Donovan Mitchell trade talks. Plus, updates on RJ Barrett, Jalen Brunson, Julius Randle, Tom Thibodeau, and more on the latest edition of the HoopsHype podcast.
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1:15 Donovan Mitchell trade talks
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Scotto: Justin Zanik and Danny Ainge gave a press conference to the local Jazz media and were talking about how the deal from the Cavaliers was the best deal they got. I thought the trade was a home run for the Cavaliers. They’re not a team that’s going to get guys in free agency. They have him locked in for the next three years in his prime, who’s an All-Star who will fit with their core.
I thought getting Mitchell would be a step in the right direction for the Knicks. Did I think they had a ceiling of being a top-four team in the East? No. I thought maybe they could contend for a sixth seed or something.
Regarding the unprotected picks, I think it would’ve hurt them to give those up more than Cleveland because the Cavaliers have shown they can be a playoff team, and they have a sustainable young core looking ahead that’s only going to get better.
Bondy: The Knicks definitely wanted Donovan Mitchell. This wasn’t a situation where they were being hesitant. I know there were some reports that they had a low ceiling with Mitchell. They really wanted him. I can confirm Gersson Rosas was a lead negotiator in the negotiations, and he was talking to Justin Zanik a lot. I think they have a prior relationship.
How did it break down? There are conflicting views about that. From my understanding, the Jazz were really heavy on the unprotected picks. That’s what they wanted. The Knicks and Jazz were really close. They thought they were going to get a deal done. They were at the two-yard line, and they were haggling over protections over picks.
What I’m curious to know is when the Cavaliers jumped in, and they gave their offer, and the Jazz said they’d take that, why did the Jazz not go back to the Knicks?
If it’s true they didn’t go back to the Knicks, I don’t understand that. I believe if that was the case, the Knicks would’ve gone above that offer. If their hands were forced, they would’ve beaten the offer from the Cavaliers and gotten Mitchell.
5:45 RJ Barrett’s involvement in the Donovan Mitchell trade talks and his Knicks extension
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Bondy: There are different views about how the league views RJ Barrett. My understanding is the Jazz valued the contract that they got with Collin Sexton more than what they would’ve had to pay Barrett. That was an important part of the trade negotiations.
Scotto: For Collin Sexton, with Cleveland, they were trying to stay under the luxury tax. They weren’t trying to go more than around $13.5 million annually or so in a multi-year deal for him… With Barrett’s extension with the Knicks, I think certainly people around the league view it in different ways. You’ve got a guy who’s getting better in some ways, but what’s his ceiling? I think with the rising cap, the contract will look better over time. I heard conflicting things on whether Utah really wanted Barrett at all costs. I think there were scenarios where if the Knicks didn’t put Barrett in the trade, Utah would’ve welcomed more draft picks compensation as a substitute. That didn’t seem like something the Knicks wanted to do.
With the Knicks haggling over Quentin Grimes, it reminded me a little bit of when Cleveland didn’t want to trade JJ Hickson (for Amar’e Stoudemire) and Timofey Mozgov when he was with the Knicks (for Carmelo Anthony).
I’m curious to see how Barrett’s extension affects Tyler Herro’s negotiations with the Miami Heat and what they do with him ultimately.
Bondy: They handled it poorly. Just minutes after the Mitchell trade was leaked, they decided to make the extension official and say how great Barrett is. It was transparent like they’ve got to do this quickly because they’re going to get some bad publicity from missing out on Mitchell. It felt like Barrett was a consultation prize rather than the big signing they were trying to present it as. I don’t know the lingering effects this could have on Barrett.
The feeling around the league, and it’s been like this for a while with Barrett, his ceiling is lower than a lot of these top prospects and top picks because he’s not that athletic. He’s great at going downhill, he’s strong and fast, but he doesn’t jump high and struggles to get by his defenders in one-on-one situations, which is going to limit his ceiling. Defensively, he loves to take on the best assignments. Is he the best defender? I’d say he’s above average.
He has fans within the organization. Scott Perry drafted him. The fact that they waited as long as they did and were willing to give him up with all this other compensation for Mitchell shows some people aren’t as high on him in the organization as others, which I’ve heard.
11:55 Who’s the next star the Knicks will target?
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Scotto: Marc Berman reported I believe that Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a possible guy the Knicks could target, and I don’t see it. If you think Utah wanted draft picks for Donovan Mitchell, what do you think Sam Presti is going to want for Shai? He just signed him to a max extension. Some people around Oklahoma City really like Shai. The injury to Chet Holmgren is going to stunt their ability to win this season, but Shai’s a guy they signed to that extension for a reason. They think he’s a guy that can be a building block for that team.
Bondy: The Phoenix Suns are in a tenuous situation, given what’s happening with their owner. I’m going to go with Devin Booker because I don’t know what’s going to happen in Phoenix at this point. I have no idea how the players are going to react to this Robert Sarver news. I can see an upheaval coming.
15:40 Jalen Brunson tampering investigation update
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Bondy: This was weeks ago when I was making phone calls about this, so I don’t know how up to date this information is, but the league has been investigating and has been for a while. At least one member of the Knicks’ organization has had their cell phone confiscated. It could be more, but I know of at least one. I don’t know what the NBA has found. To me, it’s a big-time gray area. Are you going to tell a father that he can’t talk to his son about his future? If I were the Knicks, I would’ve had Brunson talk to the press and say something along those lines. I’ve heard in a worst-case scenario the Knicks will have to give up a draft pick should the league find that they did something egregious.
17:55 Mitchell Robinson’s contract and future
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Scotto: I thought his contract was interesting because it’s a descending contract, which usually signals to me and people around the league that it could be tradeable or designed to be traded. I’ve talked to people within the Knicks. Mitchell Robinson has relatively been the same guy since he’s been drafted. Some people in the Knicks’ organization think he’s still young (24) and learning with some upside to get better.
Bondy: They gave him more than I thought. We had a discussion on this podcast.
Scotto: We said around $12-13 million (annually).
Bondy: He’s really good at what he does, but it’s limited. He fits very well into Tom Thibodeau’s scheme. He wants a big center who’s a rim protector who can finish at the rim. There have been questions about his health, conditioning, and maturity.
20:35 Is Cam Reddish a trade candidate?
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Scotto: NBA executives I’ve spoken to are split on Cam Reddish. Some believe Reddish has raw physical talent and upside that still has yet to be tapped into. Others believe he doesn’t have the drive to fulfill his potential. He’s eligible for an $8.1 million qualifying offer and restricted free agency in the summer of 2023.
Bondy: The only scenario where I see him getting playing time is if there’s an injury. If you look at the rotation, he doesn’t fit in it. It begs the question, why did they give up a first-round pick to trade for him in the first place? He never had a role on this team. I don’t think he made a trade request. The Knicks aren’t going to give him up for nothing. They just gave up a pick for him. His value has since gone down. If they trade him now, they won’t get that first-round pick back.
23:10 Julius Randle and Evan Fournier
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Scotto: Since signing his extension, it hasn’t gone the way he and the Knicks envisioned. They took a step back last year as a team, and Julius shooting the ball. Other executives around the league looked at his play and seemingly his attitude a little bit at times with the Knicks. Evan Fournier was paid a lot of money and shot the ball pretty well from three-point range, but other than that, I don’t know how much he moves the needle.
Bondy: I was in those empty buildings (during the bubble) when they let the media sit at the Chase Bridge. I saw Randle playing out of his mind during those times. When I saw him struggle was during the playoffs when they let the fans back into the building. One thing that took me by surprise, and while it was happening, I talked to people in New Orleans, is how sensitive he is to some things. I like Randle. He’s a great family man, and he’s passionate and tries hard, but he lets stuff get to him. He doesn’t react in a positive way when stuff gets to him. Some people take it in and use it as motivation to be better. He takes it in a negative way, and that happened a lot last season.
My sense is the Knicks are going to give this a try. They’re going to let Brunson be the point guard and have Barrett on the wing with Randle as a power forward next season and give it a go before they try to trade anybody in that group. I know people talk about trading Randle so that Obi Toppin gets more of an opportunity. I don’t think that’s going to happen, certainly right away.
Scotto: Last year, one of the things a lot of scouts and executives I spoke to about Randle said he got back to some of his old habits with his head down and turning the ball over and not moving the ball like he did prior to his extension.
29:45 Tom Thibodeau’s future
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Bondy: I think the baseline should be an improvement from last season. Randle can’t play worse. They played a lot better towards the end of last season after the All-Star break. Some of that was the young guys playing. If they’re struggling like they did last season, I think Tom Thibodeau’s in trouble. It’s always the coach that’s the first one to go.