The New York Knicks have plotted what they want to keep most in a potential Donovan Mitchell trade. Our experts are about to do the same.
Mike Vorkunov, who covered the Knicks for The Athletic from 2018-21, and current Knicks beat reporter Fred Katz have connected for a special activity: They will draft the pieces the Knicks could use to entice the Utah Jazz into a deal for the three-time All-Star.
The Knicks will have to pay a heavy price for Mitchell, but how expensive remains to be seen. How much is enough for the 25-year-old dynamo scorer?
Fred and Mike delved into the six players and 11 draft assets the Knicks could potentially send to the Jazz and drafted them, as if they were in a niche, trade-piece fantasy league. The goal? Select the players and/or first-round draft picks the Knicks should prioritize retaining in a hypothetical deal for Mitchell. With ferocious negotiators like Brock Aller and Danny Ainge on each side, no detail is too small, no pick too invaluable.
The draft goes 17 rounds.
It does not include Evan Fournier, Julius Randle or Derrick Rose, all of whom have large salaries that could help facilitate a trade for Mitchell. Instead, only first-round picks, first-round swaps and young players are in the pool.
There are 17 potential pieces the Knicks could use to acquire Mitchell: six players (RJ Barrett, Quentin Grimes, Miles McBride, Immanuel Quickley, Cam Reddish and Obi Toppin); first-round picks in 2023, ‘25, ‘27 and ‘29; first-round swaps in ‘24, ‘26 and ‘28; and four first-rounders from other teams (the Dallas Mavericks’ in ’23, the Detroit Pistons’ in ‘23, the Washington Wizards’ in ‘23 and the Milwaukee Bucks’ in ‘25).
To make things easier, the Knicks’ 2024, ‘26 and ‘28 first-rounders were not in the draft pool, since the most-likely construction of a hypothetical Mitchell deal would include first-rounders in 2023, ‘25, ‘27 and/or ‘29 with the possibility of swaps in the even-numbered years. By league rule, teams can trade first-round picks as far out as only seven years. For the sake of simplicity, let’s also assume that all the Knicks’ first-round picks and swaps are unprotected.
Mike and Fred added justifications for their selections below their picks.
Remember, this draft is from the perspective of what the Knicks should want to keep in a trade for Mitchell, not what the Jazz should want to receive for him. That’s especially important about the player who Team Mike could select first.
Speaking of, Team Mike is on the clock …
No 1: Team Mike selects RJ Barrett
If the Knicks trade for Mitchell they’ll look to be as good as possible during the 2022-23 season, and Barrett would be a significant player for them. They need to keep him to maximize their short-term potential. They also need to keep him to maximize their long-term potential. It will become ever more difficult to acquire high-end talent with a trade for Mitchell, let alone a star. They’ll have significantly fewer draft assets and likely be a better team, so they’ll be more likely to pick lower in the draft. Barrett is their big, in-house bet to nurture a star or at least a very good starter and not have to pay anything to get him. That’s more valuable than a far-off pick for the Knicks and that makes him so much more valuable to the franchise he’s a part of than he is for another team.
No. 2: Team Fred selects the Knicks’ 2029 first-round pick
I had Barrett No. 1 on my big board, as well, which should help put into context why it’s realistic for the 22-year-old to stay put amidst a possible Mitchell trade. The Knicks could want to keep him the most and the Jazz could want other stuff more. Barrett can become a free agent next summer and is extension-eligible now. Utah is early as can be in its rebuilding cycle. Yet, it’d have to pay him market value right away. Barrett would be approaching unrestricted free agency when the Jazz get good again. As for my selection of the 2029 first-rounder, the logic is simple: the farther out the picks go, the more uncertain we are of their positioning. Holding onto the 2029 pick keeps the future more flexible. Also, if the Knicks want to trade for another star a couple of years down the line, a plan I detailed, they’ll need the 2029 first-rounder to do it.
No. 3: Team Mike selects the Knicks’ 2027 first-round pick
The Knicks need to maintain as many of their long-term draft assets as possible. They’ll need first-round picks to either replenish their talent base or to trade for help. Or there also is the possibility that it all goes bad and they need to re-start from a bad place, and this is how they get high-end talent in place. Basic rule: try to trade as few future firsts as possible and especially the further out they’re available. Too many things can go wrong.
No. 4: Team Fred selects Quentin Grimes
Let’s say the Knicks trade for Mitchell. Let’s say they do it with the hopes of bringing in another star two or three years down the line. There’s great uncertainty in that plan — not just in if the other headliner will come but also in who he could be or what style that guy plays. Stars disrupt the way a team operates. For example..adding an All-Star, ball-dominant point guard shifts an offense’s cadence differently than an All-NBA, slashing wing would. But there is one similarity between the two: you’re not continuing business as usual if you acquire either. The beauty of Grimes is he fits next to everyone. He’s the Knicks’ best current perimeter defender. He is a knock-down 3-point shooter, moves off the ball and attacks closeouts. He showed off improved passing at summer league. Drop Grimes onto all 30 teams and he can help immediately without disrupting the ecosystem on either side of the ball. There’s tremendous value in that. I considered taking the 2025 first-rounder here, but the security of Grimes pushed me over the edge. He’s only one year into his career, and yet, we know he’s good already.
No. 5: Team Mike selects the 2028 first-round pick swap rights
This might be a little surprising — I know Fred was a little surprised when I made this pick — but this follows my basic principle: The further out from the deal you are, keep as much control of those picks as you can. Let’s call this the Jamal Murray Rule. Or the Gordon Hayward Rule.
No. 6: Team Fred selects the Knicks’ 2025 first-round pick
The Knicks’ goal in a Mitchell trade would be to maintain as much of their future as they can while massively improving their present. It’s why Mike and I both gravitate to the picks over the players.
No. 7: Team Mike selects Immanuel Quickley
I deviated from my protect the picks at all costs philosophy to take Quickley because I think he’s a young, cost-controlled playmaker who you can play in the backcourt with Mitchell or who can bring some juice off the bench. He’s probably been underutilized his first two years in New York but a Mitchell trade could clear out guard minutes, as well as some more willingness from head coach Tom Thibodeau to play him. If you look at the career trajectories for Quickley and Jalen Brunson via DARKO, they match up well, and Quickley bested him by EPM last season. The Knicks paid $104 million to Brunson this summer, so keeping Quickley at his salary seems like it’s worth bargaining for.
No. 8: Team Fred selects the 2026 first-round pick swap rights
I’m going to trash talk a little: This is the best value pick in the draft. There is a world where the Knicks acquire Mitchell and a decade down the line we consider 2026 swap rights the best piece the Jazz acquired. Imagine if the Knicks trade for Mitchell and it all goes south. They remain sub-.500. They can’t get another star to join. They wallow below the playoff picture. Well, Mitchell can become a free agent in 2025, as can Jalen Brunson, as can Randle. What if they all leave, and the Knicks are left with nothing for the 2025-26 season? At some point, you have to mitigate risk. The former Brooklyn Nets regime must still have nightmares about the 2017 draft swap they gave to the Boston Celtics, which handed the Celtics a No. 1 pick that they traded for Jayson Tatum. If I’m making a Mitchell deal, holding onto 2026 swap rights would help me sleep if only because I’d know that if it all tanked, then I’d have a high pick to begin another restructuring in ‘26.
No. 9: Team Mike selects Obi Toppin
My thinking here was: if the Knicks get Mitchell, would their likely first be better or worse than Toppin? I decided to bet on the 24-year-old lottery pick. I thought the Knicks should have picked someone else when they took Toppin eighth in the 2020 draft and still do (that someone then and now is Tyrese Haliburton) but that’s in the past. Toppin had lottery pick talent and I’ve heard of at least one team that had him in their top-five on their board that year. He had a poor start to his career but he’s grown since then. By keeping Toppin, the Knicks keep a big who could play a more uptempo game alongside Brunson and Mitchell, if they’d ever trend that way, but also give them a safety net if and when they trade Randle. I think there’s still a good amount of debate on how good Toppin is and could be but he’s likely a better prospect than who a Mitchell-led team would net in the 2023 draft.
No. 10: Team Fred selects the Knicks’ 2023 first-round pick
I’ll snag the only Knicks first-rounder remaining on the board. As to why I passed on Toppin: Thibodeau has limited his playing time, and the front office, meanwhile, continually constructs a roster that discourages the head coach from playing him. The Knicks brought back their starting center, Mitchell Robinson, and signed another center, Isaiah Hartenstein. They held onto Randle. Thibodeau is no more incentivized to play a Toppin-Randle frontcourt now than he was in 2021-22. If Toppin is bound for 16 minutes a game once again, he might be more valuable to the Jazz, who would plan on giving him a consequential role.
No. 11: Team Mike selects the Bucks’ 2025 first-round pick
(NOTE: The pick is top-four protected in 2025, then extinguishes if it does not convey that season.)
Picking between the platter of assorted protected future picks the Knicks own was probably the most frustrating part of this exercise. This pick is the most lightly protected of all the non-Knicks picks, so, hey, take a shot at Bucks calamity. Even dynasties have bad years eventually (see the Warriors). Maybe that 2024-25 season is the one that all goes haywire for the Bucks.
No. 12: Team Fred selects the Wizards’ 2023 first-round pick
(NOTE: The pick is top-14 protected in 2023, top-12 protected in ‘24, top-10 protected in ‘25, top-eight protected in ‘26, then becomes two second-round picks if it does not convey by then.)
I have this pick ranked as the Knicks’ best one from another team. It is less protected than the Bucks’ one, but the most-likely scenario is that the Bucks continue to be good as long as Giannis Antetokounmpo is around. Meanwhile, the Wizards gun for the playoffs and commonly barely miss out. This is one of the picks the Knicks received in their series of trades on 2022 NBA Draft night, when they sent out No. 11 to the Oklahoma City Thunder. With the way Washington rolls, it’s possible this ends up around the same range as the one they dealt to OKC but in 2024, ‘25 or ‘26.
No. 13: Team Mike selects the Pistons’ 2023 first-round pick
(NOTE: The pick is top-18 protected in 2023, top-18 protected in ‘24, top-13 protected in ‘25, top-11 protected in ‘26 and top-nine protected in ‘27, then becomes a second-round pick if it does not convey by then.
I just didn’t want to bet on Luka Doncic to miss the postseason next season.
No. 14: Team Fred selects the Mavericks’ 2023 first-round pick
(NOTE: The pick is top-10 protected in 2023, ‘24 and ‘25, then turns into a second-round pick if it does not convey by then.)
Simple logic here: I’m taking the final available first-round pick. Mike and I agree this is the Knicks’ least-valuable first-rounder.
No. 15: Team Mike selects the 2024 first-round pick swap rights
Hey, maybe Thibodeau was trying to tell us something by not playing Reddish, the 21-year-old archetypal wing two years removed from being a top-10 pick. So, I’ll take the swap.
No. 16: Team Fred selects Cam Reddish
Considering he has many of the physical tools, it’s possible that we’ll both look foolish for letting Reddish fall so far, but it’s difficult to justify selecting him higher than here. Think about it like this: Reddish asked for a trade from the Atlanta Hawks last summer. They took action quickly after. The league knew Reddish was available, and Atlanta made the price to land him clear: It would take a first-round pick. No one offered one until the Knicks traded a heavily-protected first, via the Charlotte Hornets, for him in January. Now, coming off a shoulder injury and a Knicks coach hesitant to play him, Reddish’s value is lower, which meant I couldn’t justify choosing him over any of the first-rounders or other players in our draft pool.
No. 17: Team Mike selects Miles McBride
Somebody has to go last. Sorry, Miles. You might be the best Miles to hit New York since Miles Morales but circumstances worked against you.
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(Photo of Donovan Mitchell and RJ Barrett: Wendell Cruz / USA Today)