The Knicks had their chance to acquire Donovan Mitchell, making a series of offers for the three-time All-Star guard before he was scooped up by the Cavaliers.
The Knicks may regret not getting it done. The Jazz brass, including CEO Danny Ainge, wanted three first-round picks along with a handful of young players for Mitchell, who immediately became a trade chip when the Jazz decided to rebuild.
According to industry sources, the main players negotiating weren’t Knicks president Leon Rose and Ainge. Ainge had a voice in the talks and opinions on whether the Jazz should move their best player several weeks after trading center Rudy Gobert to the Timberwolves for a haul of young players and picks.
The main negotiator in the Knicks-Jazz talks on New York’s side was Gersson Rosas, who was let go by the Timberwolves for his part in a reportedly dysfunctional front office that included his relationship with a team employee. Rosas was hired as a consultant by the Knicks in February but took control of the Mitchell talks because of his relationship with Jazz general manager Justin Zanik.
Rose apparently trusted Rosas with the negotiations, and it became obvious over the past few weeks that the Knicks were in the driver’s seat to acquire Mitchell, a New York native who wanted to play for the Knicks. It became unclear, however, how many assets the Knicks were willing to relinquish for Mitchell.
The Knicks, despite their troublesome recent past, have compiled a group of strong young talent, including Immanuel Quickley, Quentin Grimes, Mitchell Robinson, and RJ Barrett. The Knicks were reluctant to give up Grimes and Barrett, and then set a Monday deadline for the Jazz before they agreed to a four-year, $120 million extension with Barrett.
When the Knicks set the deadline, the Jazz pivoted to the Cavaliers, who had draft picks and young players to offer. Cleveland sent former lottery picks Collin Sexton and Lauri Markkanen, recent first-round pick Ochai Agbaji, three first-round picks, and two pick swaps.
The Jazz agreed to a four-year, $72 million sign-and-trade with Sexton, making him their point guard of the future. There is debate as to whether the Jazz were interested in Barrett, the former No. 3 overall pick who has improved dramatically over the past two seasons and could be considered a cornerstone.
But what is known is Rosas was doing most of the negotiating for the Knicks and has taken on more than a consultant role with the organization. Rosas struggled with putting together a winning product in Minnesota before his dismissal. He did make the decision to hire former Houston colleague Chris Finch as coach and received criticism for bypassing several candidates of color for the position. Finch has turned out to be a standout coach for the Timberwolves, who acquired Gobert in July and are vying to be among the Western Conference elite under new GM Tim Connelly.
Ainge was not the front man in the Mitchell talks. The perception that he has taken over the organization and decided to run the club in the same style as the rebuilding Celtics from a decade ago — acquiring first-round picks and trading quality veterans — isn’t necessarily accurate. Zanik, who joined the Jazz as an assistant GM in 2013 after a career as an agent, was the Jazz’s representative in the negotiations.
The question is whether Rose’s decision to allow Rosas to control the talks cost the Knicks Mitchell. Rose and Ainge did not speak during the negotiations, according to industry sources. The Knicks, a few minutes after the Mitchell deal with the Cavaliers was announced, posted they had signed Barrett to the extension.
Barrett was the first Knicks first-round pick since Charlie Ward, drafted in 1994, to agree to a contract extension with the club. Barrett could turn into an All-Star and All-NBA talent, but many Knicks faithful walked away frustrated the club did not acquire Mitchell when it appeared to be the most serious suitor for weeks.
The Knicks didn’t want to include Barrett, arguably their best player, along with other prospects and three first-round picks for Mitchell, who has yet to prove he can lead a team to an elite level. But the question is whether the Knicks could have pulled off a trade without Barrett, and could have kept Grimes, a rising player, out of the deal.
The Cavaliers had already moved on from Sexton and were willing to move the explosive point guard, while Markkanen was losing minutes in a deep Cleveland frontcourt. The Cavaliers, seeking to return to prominence in the Eastern Conference following the departure of LeBron James, jumped at the opportunity to get another All-Star in a city that does not attract major free agents.
The Knicks, who invested more than $100 million in guard Jalen Brunson, who has yet to make an All-Star team, are now fielding a roster that may have an opportunity to break into the top six in the East, but anything more would be a surprise. And the organization is now perceived to have wasted an opportunity to acquire an All-Star that wanted to play in New York.
But the perception that Rose and Ainge were talking late into the night trying to work out a deal wasn’t the case, according to industry sources. Rosas and Zanik were at the head of the failed discussions.
WHERE DO CELTICS TURN?
Gallinari injury leaves a void
The Celtics received difficult news Friday when they revealed that free agent signee Danilo Gallinari tore his left ACL during a World Cup qualifying game for Italy and is expected to miss at least the regular season.
Gallinari, 34, was the Celtics’ prime free agent target this summer, and they waited until he was bought out by the Spurs to sign him to a two-year deal. He would have filled a valuable role as a backup power forward and center, and someone who could stretch the floor and score in bunches. The Celtics have lacked that type of player for years and Gallinari was slated to fill that role perfectly.
So, what do the Celtics do now? Well, they can thank Kevin Durant for having more options. Why? Because his trade demand held up the free agent market for weeks and there are a handful of players still available who could be signed for the veteran’s minimum.
Let’s take a look at five players who could help the Celtics and are available for an affordable price:
Carmelo Anthony. This is starting to gain traction because Anthony may be the best shooting forward left on the market, and he has shown to be productive offensively despite his age. He turned 38 in May, but he managed to play 69 games last season and average 13.3 points off the bench. Anthony has been criticized for his lack of 3-point shooting, but he has improved dramatically. Anthony was in exile from the NBA after a short stint in Houston because of his reluctance to take shots from behind the arc. That has changed. Anthony has remained in great shape and can still score. He had 20 or more points in 11 games last season and played 26 minutes per game, showing his durability. Anthony wants an opportunity to win a championship, and this could be his best chance.
DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins is a rugged center who could add toughness and maybe even leadership to a young team. He has played the past few years issue-free, even spending a stint with the Bucks. Cousins is a 33 percent 3-point shooter and would not adjust well to an up-tempo offense, but he could set screens, score at the rim, grab rebounds, and serve as the third center. Cousins, believe it or not, is only 32, although he has endured many injuries. The only concern is whether he would embrace Ime Udoka’s team concept, but he has proven to be a solid teammate in his recent stops.
Jeremy Lamb. The former UConn standout has turned into a journeyman. He would be a backup shooting guard and has the ability to score, but not efficiently. He’s not a good 3-point shooter and is often injured, but Lamb is only 30 and could serve a purpose off the bench. This wouldn’t fill the frontcourt role vacated by Gallinari, but it would add another capable player on a cheaper contract.
Dwight Howard. Again, this won’t fill the Gallinari role of stretching the floor, but Howard could fill a role as a third center and provide veteran experience in the paint. Howard, 36, is obviously not the player he was 10 years ago, but he could spell Al Horford and Robert Williams, grab rebounds, and score at the rim. He remains in remarkable physical condition and has become more serious about his craft in recent years. The Celtics could use another veteran off the bench and Howard would add depth. But opinions from Celtics brass and Udoka may vary on the three-time Defensive Player of the Year, whose reputation is not pristine.
LaMarcus Aldridge. The question is, how much does he have left? Aldridge, 37, retired briefly because of heart issues, was cleared to return to the Nets, but by then he had fallen out of the rotation. Aldridge has always had the ability to score from midrange, but defensively he could have some issues. Experience would be the lone reason to bring in Aldridge, but he did average 12.9 points and 5.5 rebounds when he received quality minutes from the Nets.
There is no perfect fit for the Gallinari role unless the Celtics make a trade, but there are some capable free agents who could help the club in spurts.
Taking a road less traveled
The NBA held off until the 11th hour to release the 2022-23 schedule, waiting for a possible Kevin Durant trade. It never happened, so the Nets missed several national television opportunities, including Christmas Day. Look for NBATV to pick up several Nets games to compensate for Brooklyn’s lack of ESPN and TNT games.
According to the NBA, “The estimated average miles traveled for the 2022-23 regular season has been reduced to 41,000 miles per team, a record low in the era with 30 teams and 82 games per team.”
The league does not want to reduce the schedule, so the goal was to cut down on travel to reduce wear on bodies and at least make a grueling schedule easier. If the owners were ever to agree to a schedule reduction, they would want players to be paid less. That is not happening.
The NBA said that each team will travel approximately 2,000 fewer miles than last season. One of the key moves in reducing travel is two-game series that eliminate teams making return trips to conference opponents. The Celtics have one such trip this season, a pair of January games at Charlotte.
The NBA is shortening road trips, pairing teams such as the Lakers and Clippers and Knicks and Nets, especially for interconference opponents. For example, the Celtics play the Clippers and Lakers on back-to-back nights in Los Angeles, as they did last season. In the past, the Celtics would have made separate trips to Los Angeles to meet those teams.
All 30 teams are scheduled to appear at least once on TNT or ESPN this season.
All 30 teams will play on the final day of the regular season, which is a change from years past. It allows playoff seedings and play-in tournament positions to be determined on the final day, adding suspense to season finales.
“In an effort to maximize competitive fairness, the seven games between Eastern Conference teams and the one interconference game will begin at 1 p.m. ET,” according to the league, “and the seven games between Western Conference teams will start at 3:30 p.m. ET.”
The league will keep it’s 7:30, 10 p.m. national doubleheader schedule. An earlier start time for West Coast games — the previous start time was 10:30 p.m. — will serve as a ratings booster for East Coast fans wanting to watch premier teams such as the Warriors and Lakers.
Per the league: “The NBA continues to prioritize player rest surrounding high-profile national TV games. Neither team will play on either the day before or the day after the following games:”
▪ All five games on Christmas Day.
▪ All 15 games on ABC during Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons (this is separate from ABC’s Sunday games on Christmas Day).
▪ The two games on Martin Luther King Jr. Day on TNT.
The league has eliminated the brutal Christmas Day/day after Christmas back-to-back and will give players rest days so they can appear in marquee national games without fear of rest because of load management. The league is trying to reduce excuses for star players missing TNT and ESPN’s most highly rated windows.
And finally, according to the NBA, teams will average 13.3 back-to-back sets this season. The league said that just eight years ago, teams averaged nearly 20 back-to-back sets per season. That will never happen again.
The Nets continued their roster upgrades by signing former Heat and Pistons forward Markieff Morris, who missed most of last season because of whiplash sustained after being pushed to the floor by Denver’s Nikola Jokic. Morris is a rugged big man who can stretch the floor on 3-pointers and also give hard fouls … The status of free agent Montrezl Harrell was cleared up this past week when his charge for marijuana possession was reduced to a misdemeanor. The tough big man could be an asset to a team looking for interior scoring off the bench. He spent last season with Washington and Charlotte and likely would have been signed by now if not for his off-court issue. The NBA could still suspend Harrell for a handful of games. He could be a target for a team with a mid-level exception … The Pacers are in a total rebuilding mode and are looking for takers for the final three years of Daniel Theis’s four-year, $36 million contract. The Celtics sent Theis to the Pacers in the Malcolm Brogdon deal, but he doesn’t have much of a future with the club. Theis was acquired by Boston to be that reliable third big man, but he soon fell out of favor with coach Ime Udoka.