Wherever Leon Rose, the mysterious man who runs the Knicks’ front office, sits atop a pile of protected draft picks, one has to wonder what he’s thinking about Donovan Mitchell these days.
Remembering Summer, Mitchell was supposed to be Nick. The Westchester standout was so presumptuous about Homecoming that he told his friends and family, “Okay, keep this quiet. But maybe it will happen.” Told.
Then the Cavaliers swooped in and Mitchell played like a superstar in Cleveland. The 26-year-old has scored his 30-plus points in eight of his 10 games this season, making him his third leading scorer in the NBA. Even the most optimistic view did not predict Mitchell’s production to be so strong.
There are mixed messages as to why the Knicks failed to track down, and Rose does not answer questions from independent media. It means that I negotiated with such a young player.
In the aftermath, the Knicks have largely lived up to their expectations: average. Grimes is largely unavailable due to lingering leg pain. Julius Randle and RJ Barrett are playing career averages, both good and bad. The Tom Thibodeau-led team faced six of his superstars and, not coincidentally, he lost six against the Pistons on Friday night.
Mitchell. Ja Morant. Giannis Antetokounmpo. Trae Young. Jason Tatum. Kevin Durant.
With the exception of Young, these players completely dominated the Knicks. Across all six, he averaged 29 points, 7.2 rebounds and 9 assists. This underscores Rose’s apparent failure in his third year. The Knicks still don’t have a superstar to face.
Thibodeau was asked about the conundrum and danced around it.
“Every team has strengths and weaknesses,” the coach said before pivoting to a lengthy answer about Durant being difficult to guard.
Excuses claim Mitchell’s trade price was too high to bring the Knicks into contention. A familiar wish sell is that Leon Rose jumps on the next available superstar, but such a strategy is highly unpredictable, if you can call it that. We’ve been hearing about the acquisition of Anthony Towns and Damian Lillard for two years now. They both then signed major expansions.
Expecting players with Mitchell’s ability to become available is a flawed approach. The idea that the Knicks can automatically win the next superstar bidding war is even more problematic. Perhaps Sunday’s opponent at MSG, Shai-Gilgeous Alexander, is forced out of OKC. After signing a $172 million deal last year alone, he likely won’t.
Meanwhile, the Knicks aren’t too enthusiastic about what this season could be. Rose’s decision to re-sign Jalen Brunson caused confusion over direction as he made that deal at the cost of the 11th pick.
The Knicks will neither rebuild nor contend. Then there’s the “lack of energy and effort” excuse that’s often used after a loss because it’s a fixable problem. Branson made the latest after Wednesday’s big loss in Brooklyn when his point guard said, “It’s okay…they played harder than us and we didn’t play as hard as we could.” It was from
The real problem with “they have superstars and we don’t” is hard to fix.
“We’re trying to figure ourselves out,” said Derrick Rose.
The Knicks are always ready to turn around in trades if things get out of hand.
Wherever this goes, the Knicks are going to have a hard time finding players like Mitchell.