The obstacle in the Knicks-Jazz talks
It’s not about the players in the package. It’s not about the number of first-round picks.
According to sources, Jazz President Danny Ainge and Knicks President Leon Rose are at a Donovan Mitchell stalemate on really one thing – the number of “unprotected” first-round picks in the package.
On June draft night, Rose rounded up a handful of protected first-rounders in his run and trades that cost him his own lottery pick at No. 11. But tying protected first-rounders in the deal of Utah did not stir Ainge’s soul.
According to a recent proposal, courtesy of Shams Charania of The Athletic, the Knicks offered Obi Toppin, Evan Fournier, money, two unprotected first-round picks and three protected for a total of five.
The Jazz declined. A source told The Post Ainge after four unprotected first-round picks – not just two. It’s not a small difference.
In fact, Ainge doesn’t have many strong preferences over returning players, although shooter Quentin Grimes is certainly high on his list.
The Knicks, too, aren’t concerned with the exact player package — just the number of first-round picks they give up. The Post reported Saturday that the Knicks believe a Jalen Brunson-Mitchell backcourt can be the elixir of a 10-game jump in the standings from 37 wins to 47 wins.
However, if they drop the entire farm of early laps, they will struggle to make another big trade to make them a championship contender. They think having Brunson and Mitchell would entice another star to join them.
The Knicks have four future first-round picks who, for the most part, are lottery protected.
The fact that the Knicks would be willing to drop 2020 lottery pick Toppin is a sign of their belief that Julius Randle can return closer to 2020-21 form when he was the All-NBA second team. They hope Randle will be in a better space mentally than he was in 2021-22.
The Knicks brass are worried about finding the right balance with Randle/Toppin as power forwards who aren’t playing in another position. Toppin is much easier to trade as he is on his rookie contract. A Randle-Toppin smallball frontcourt is considered unappealing to the organization.
While Grimes is a Tom Thibodeau favorite, the 2020-21 Coach of the Year is happy to place RJ Barrett alongside Brunson and Mitchell. This small backcourt could use Barrett’s size at 3.
The problem with Barrett is the possibility of him asking for a maximum contract extension of five years, $185 million which may not be tradeable in the future if Barrett does not become a game-winning player and All-Star.
However, the player mix doesn’t seem to be Utah’s or the Knicks’ primary concern.