Knicks president Leon Rose officially announced the contract extension of RJ Barrett on Thursday afternoon, calling him a “core piece of our team’s foundation.”
He better be hardcore because the Knicks won’t be getting Donovan Mitchell, who reportedly is heading to the Cavaliers for a package of five first-round picks, Collin Sexton, Lauri Markkanen and Ochai Agbaji.
Three of the first-round picks were unprotected — which was the sticking point in negotiations with the Knicks. Utah’s CEO of basketball operations Danny Ainge at first wanted four unprotected first-round picks but settled for three.
“They thought they had Ainge and Utah over the barrel,” one league source said. “They held back on best offers of picks and players and Danny got his three unprotected.”
Mitchell, who removed Utah from his Twitter bio this week, preferred a trade to the Knicks to come back home, but he’s still closer to his Westchester County roots in Ohio than in Utah.
One of Rose’s final offers was two unprotected first-rounders and three conditional picks with Barrett. It’s unkown if Rose made an offer with three unprotected first-round picks in a non-Barrett iteration. Ainge passed but was still very interested in getting Quentin Grimes in the deal. Apparently, Rose didn’t think Ainge really had an offer with three unprotected first-rounders and withheld Grimes from any offers.
It also should be noted that all things equal, Ainge likely preferred to trade Mitchell off Broadway and prevent him from playing in the media capital of the world.
The Knicks’ Plan B is building their young core and still being amenable to a big trade with their draft capital. They will have two first-round picks in 2023 and 11 over the next seven years.
The Knicks forfeited their 2022 lottery pick, the 11th slot, this year to open cap space for Jalen Brunson and they could lose another first-rounder for allegedly tampering with him.
The Knicks will be on the lookout for the next disgruntled player who goes on the trading block with Oklahoma City point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander previously mentioned. Ironically, the Knicks passed on him in the 2108 draft, much like they whiffed on Mitchell in 2017. Gilgeous-Alexander could be a better fit with Brunson than Mitchell.
Moments before the Mitchell news broke, the Knicks released a statement on Barrett to perhaps soften the blow.
“We are thrilled to announce a well-deserved extension for RJ Barrett, a core piece of our team’s foundation,” Rose said. “At only 22 years old, he has elevated his game each season, solidifying himself as a force on both ends of the court. We believe he will continue to improve because of his passion for the game and dedication to his craft. We want to continue to build our team and culture around players like RJ who possess these values and qualities.”
The Knicks starting five is now set to be Brunson, Evan Fournier, Barrett, Julius Randle and Mitchell Robinson.
The Knicks felt with Mitchell aboard they could be a 47-win team and make a 10-win improvement. But they didn’t want to exhaust their draft capital and prevent themselves from making one more significant move to get them to title contention.
Now their roster will likely make them a contender for the play-in tournament but not much higher than that. Meanwhile, their Eastern Conference rival Cavaliers have done well with GM Koby Altman, New York native, quietly getting the goods.