Why the Donovan Mitchell-Knicks dream isn’t over

Why the Donovan Mitchell-Knicks dream isn’t over

This isn’t about moving the goal posts yet again for the Knicks and their fans. They have waited long enough to land a marquee player willing to call Madison Square Garden home.

That once again will be an immediate goal for team president Leon Rose and his front office in the coming months, just as it was last summer when they fell short in their bid to obtain All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell from the Jazz.

Mitchell, who grew up in Westchester, instead was dealt to the Cavaliers — and admitted facing the Knicks in the playoffs was a “full-circle” moment in his career, even though his team ended up on the losing end of the first-round series.

While the Knicks will search elsewhere via the trade market this summer to augment their roster in hopes of taking the next step toward title contention, Mitchell’s status will continue to bear watching over the next two years due to his ongoing flirtation with his hometown team.

Appearing recently on former Knicks guard Theo Pinson’s podcast, “Run Your Race,” Mitchell unsurprisingly spoke in glowing terms about the MSG atmosphere during the playoffs.

New York Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor (R) hugs Cleveland Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell at the conclusion of his teams game against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden in New York, Sunday, December 04, 2022.
Donovan Mitchell, here embracing Mets star Francisco Lindor, has not tried to hide his love of New York even after his trade to the Cavaliers.Jason Szenes for the NY Post

“For Game 3, when we came out for warmups, the noise, the fans were in there already,” Mitchell said. “When they did the anthem, bruh? That s–t was crazy. That s–t was crazy. Like when they did the anthem, I was like, ‘Damn, this s–t is jumping.’ Like, I was geeked.”

Of course, it’s hardly breaking new ground to hear opposing players rave about the Garden — see also: James, LeBron — and especially for someone who grew up in the area.

But Mitchell, whose father, Donovan Sr.,  works for the Mets, already has stated he believed that he was headed to the Knicks before trade talks fell apart.

The 26-year-old Mitchell has two guaranteed years remaining on his contract worth a total of $67.4 million, and he can become a free agent for the first time in July 2025 if he declines a player option for 2025-26 at $37.1 million.

There is no way of knowing whether the same coaching staff will be intact with the Knicks by then, but Tom Thibodeau’s top assistant, Johnnie Bryant, is considered a mentor by Mitchell from their days together in Utah early in Mitchell’s career.

Donovan Mitchell #45, and Assistant Coach Johnnie Bryant of the Utah Jazz talk during a ganme against the Sacramento Kings on October 14, 2019 at vivint.SmartHome Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Mitchell credits current Knicks assistant coach Johnnie Bryant with helping to develop his game when both were in Utah.NBAE via Getty Images

“I like to try to move away from [the] summer,” Mitchell said ahead of the Knicks-Cavs series. “It happened, I’m [in Cleveland] and I’m glad to be here. I’m pretty sure when I go to New York, I’m going to get asked the same questions over and over again. But I’m glad to be a part of this group, glad to be with this team and I think for me personally, wouldn’t want it any other way.

“It’s a story[book] ending — not ending, storyline. I think it’s something that’s really special and near and dear to me being able to play in a playoff [series] in front of my friends and family. A team that I grew up watching. Against a guy that’s an assistant coach over there [Bryant] who kind of basically taught me everything I know at this point. So it’s great. I’m excited for the challenge.”

The four-time All-Star posted career bests with 28.3 points per game and a .484 field-goal percentage, including 38.6 percent from 3-point range, in his first season in Cleveland, earning second-team All-NBA honors. But the Knicks limited him to 23.2 points in five playoff games, with his shooting numbers dipping to 28.9 percent from long range and 43.3 percent overall.

Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Cleveland Cavaliers goes up for a shot driving pass Josh Hart #3 of the New York Knicks during the first quarter in game 5 in round 1 of the NBA Playoffs.
Mitchell struggled to find an offensive rhythm against the Knicks in the playoffs, averaging only 23.2 points on 43.3 percent shooting.Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

The Knicks will look elsewhere for a roster upgrade this summer, but revisiting a pursuit of Mitchell is something to keep an eye on in the near future.

To CP3 or not to CP3?

Chris Paul, a former Rose client when both were at CAA, could be another intriguing player on the market this summer for win-now teams.

A report Wednesday by TNT’s Chris Haynes said Paul, a 12-time All-Star over 18 NBA seasons, had been informed by the Suns that he would be waived.

But Shams Charania of The Athletic later reported that Phoenix is “exploring multiple options” with Paul, including trades, stretching his contract and waiving him or re-signing him in free agency.

Chris Paul #3 of the Phoenix Suns dribbles the ball during the game against the Denver Nuggets on March 31, 2022 at Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona.
After an 18-year career with 15 playoff appearances, Chris Paul may be on the move the summer.NBAE via Getty Images

No matter how Paul’s future plays out, it seems clear the door has been opened to his departure from Phoenix.

Less clear is whether the 38-year-old point guard would come to the Knicks, who have Jalen Brunson as their starting point guard, and accept a lesser role than he could earn with other contenders (e.g. Lakers, Heat) in pursuit of his first NBA title.

The great Dame?

The Knicks were one of four potential trade destinations Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard was asked about on a podcast appearance this week, but they weren’t listed as his top choice if he and the Blazers ever decide to explore trade options (which he has not yet committed to doing).

Appearing on “The Last Stand,” the seven-time All-Star guard was asked which of the Knicks, Nets, Heat and Celtics would most appeal to him if he is to relocate.

“Miami, obviously. Miami is the obvious one,” Lillard said about the Heat, who trail the Nuggets 2-1 in the NBA Finals after dropping Game 3 on Wednesday night in Miami. “Bam [Adebayo] is my dog. Bam is my dog, for real. Miami is the obvious one. Brooklyn is another obvious one, because Mikal Bridges is my dog, too.”

That prompted Knicks forward Josh Hart, a former teammate of Lillard’s in Portland until a February move to New York, to reply on Twitter, “Damn I thought I was your dog too.”

Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard, center, drives to the basket between New York Knicks guard Miles McBride, right, and center Isaiah Hartenstein during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Portland, Ore., Tuesday, March 14, 2023.
Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard ranked the Heat and Nets ahead of the Knicks when considering hypothetical trade destinations.AP

The 32-year-old Lillard, who averaged a career-high 32.2 points per game this season, said in the same interview that he “wants to have an opportunity to win in Portland” and “to build a team that can compete.

“If we can’t do that… then it’s a separate conversation we would have to have,” he added.

At the end of the regular season, Lillard told reporters he was “not interested” in seeing the Blazers draft another young player with what became the No. 3 overall pick via the lottery, adding “If the route is to do that, then that’s not my route.”

The Blazers are reportedly entertaining trade offers for that pick ahead of the June 22 draft.

Lillard’s possible presence on the trade market would add another proven impact player for the Knicks to at least consider, though he is set to earn $45.6 million next season, $48.8 million in 2024-25, an estimated $58.5 million in ’25-26 and has a player option worth more than $63 million for 2026-27.

The Hart of the matter

Josh Hart #3 of the New York Knicks goes ups for a shot pass Caleb Martin #16 of the Miami Heat during the second half. The Miami Heat defeat the New York Knicks 96-92 in game 6 to win the Eastern Conference semifinals at the Kaseya Center, Friday, May 12, 2023, in Miami, NY.
Though he’s professed his desire to remain with the Knicks, Josh Hart is the kind of two-way wing who will generate interest should he become a free agent this summer.Corey Sipkin for the NY Post

Hart also showed up on the podcast circuit earlier this week in an interview with my former SNY colleague Taylor Rooks for Bleacher Report.

Once again, Hart reiterated his desire to sign a long-term deal with the Knicks once, as expected, he declines his $12.9 million player option for 2023-24 by the June 24 deadline.

“We’ll probably decline that and do the free-agency thing,” Hart told Rooks. “I love New York. I love the team. I love the coaching staff, the front office that we have. We got young guys, draft picks, all those sorts of things. Obviously, that would be an ideal place for me to just re-sign and do that.

“Everything is perfect. On the court, off the court, with family being close to home, doing all those kinds of things. Fingers crossed, when free agency starts, a deal will get done hopefully in the first day or two. I would love for that to be home.”

Hart is expected to land a four-year deal worth between $16 million and $18 million per season.


New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson #11 reacts on the court during the second quarter.
Jalen Brunson will be spending part of his summer in The Philippines and Japan with Team USA.Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

Brunson’s addition to Team USA for the FIBA World Cup later this summer in Japan and The Philippines is a nice feather in the cap for a terrific first season in New York.

Brunson registered 24.0 points and 6.2 assists per game during the regular season and then a team-high 27.8 with 5.6 dimes over 11 postseason contests.

The Americans will be coached by Steve Kerr of the Warriors, with assistants Erik Spoelstra (Heat), Tyronn Lue (Clippers) and Mark Few (Gonzaga).