The failed Donovan Mitchell negotiation was another example of a Knicks front office structure struggling to jell.
A source confirmed Gersson Rosas was point man in the trade talks with Jazz executives, headed by GM Justin Zanik and team president Danny Ainge.
Rosas became a Knicks consultant before February’s trade deadline, but the move still hasn’t been announced by the franchise.
Rosas is close to Tom Thibodeau from their time together with the Rockets, and Thibodeau became involved in the Spida’ talks.
The organization’s biggest problem isn’t that Rosas and Thibodeau are involved, but that they are just two of a handful of strong voices — Thibodeau, Rosas, president Leon Rose, senior executive William Wesley, strategist Brock Aller and GM Scott Perry — weighing in on decisions. That makes it hard to come to a consensus.
Many league sources have contended Rose’s front office hierarchy is confusing, and that confusion gets pronounced during trade talks when teams hear different messages from different Knicks executives. That is why Rosas was put in command.
“Leon delegates too much — delegates to a fault,’’ one coaching source said. “They had a breakaway layup and blew it.’’
The Knicks front office also froze at the past two trade deadlines, not making a move in 2022, and in 2021 merely dumping the contracts of Ignas Brazdeikis and disgruntled Austin Rivers.
Thibodeau hasn’t talked to the press since April 10. Perhaps that’s wise. People around the league say he was disheartened at how the Mitchell talks played out.
The Knicks coaching staff felt the addition could’ve led them to close to a 50-win season, and laid the groundwork to add another star to Brunson-Mitchell-Julius Randle.
It was symbolic that on Monday, Ainge and Zanik staged a 20-minute press conference to discuss the deal, while that same day Knicks brass attended RJ Barrett’s season-ticket holder contract-extension bash at the Garden in which the press was banned. Pictures of Thibodeau, Rose, Wesley and Perry posing with Barrett were taken, but only by Garden photographers.
Meanwhile, in Salt Lake City Zanik explained the Jazz acquired “the greatest base of assets and flexibility to reach the ceiling’’ and said a team that lost in the first round of the playoffs without cap space wasn’t worth keeping together.
Ainge added candidly, “We had a group of players who really didn’t believe in each other.’’
Zanik said the Jazz now have more unprotected first-round picks through 2029 than any other team.
The Knicks weren’t specifically mentioned, but Zanik said the Cavaliers made “the best offer.’’
In July and August, had the Knicks offered Barrett and Evan Fournier with three unprotected first-round picks and a pick swap and two protected first-round picks, that would’ve gotten the job done.
The Knicks’ last offers fell just shy of three unprotected first-rounders. The third first-rounder would’ve been protected through the top 4.
Even so, by then, Ainge was deep into talks with the Cavaliers that included negotiating a four-year, $72 million deal for restricted free agent point guard Collin Sexton. That is $35 million less in guaranteed money than in Barrett’s four-year extension.
According to a source, David Fizdale, the former Knicks coach who recently was named Jazz assistant GM, loved Sexton dating back to his 2018 pre-draft workout with the Knicks and pushed for him (Fizdale also coached Barrett part of his rookie year).
Wesley’s stance to confidants is that Ainge asked for the moon and then some.
“Nobody likes to deal with Danny because he can be unreasonable,” an NBA GM said.
But when you analyze the crucial trade the Bucks pulled off in 2020 for Jrue Holiday (at the time a 30-year-old, one-time All-Star), Utah’s ask didn’t seem preposterous.
The Bucks gave up three first-rounders and two pick swaps in a four-team deal. Mitchell is just 26 and a three-time All-Star, as well as a New Yorker whose preference was playing at the Garden.
The Bucks won the championship the ensuing season behind Giannis Antetokounmpo’s heroics. The Knicks are about to begin the 50th season since their last championship.
An NBA GM claimed the Knicks were better off passing while Cleveland was not.
The executive said he supports the Cavaliers dealing the three unprotected first-rounders and three young prospects (Sexton, Lauri Markkanen and Ochai Agbaji).
”It’s hard to blame Cleveland,’’ the executive said. “That’s a better landing spot for him. Cleveland is closer to being a title contender than New York. The fit is better than with Jalen [Brunson]. Donovan hasn’t been great defensively the last few years. He’s defaulted to outscore [an opponent]. So I don’t know if I loved that move for the Knicks.’’
Some Knicks decision-makers felt adding Mitchell would’ve been “a bridge to get an even better All-Star.’’
But at what price? Aller, the former Cavaliers capologist, was against forking over so many draft picks in a potential Mitchell trade. One league insider wondered: If this Knicks regime gets bounced after the 2022-23 season, would Aller land back with Cleveland and his good friend owner Dan Gilbert?
What stars are on the radar now?
Though Mitchell is moving to northeast Ohio, there will be other NBA stars who will demand a trade soon enough. The Knicks have plenty of draft capital to make a great offer. That is a hallmark of Adam Silver’s NBA: players under long-term contracts trying to break them.
Here are five candidates…
LaMelo Ball: The Ball camp hoped the Knicks would be in position to draft the flashy, electric point guard in 2020, but it was not to be. LaVar Ball wants one of his sons on Broadway. Charlotte is about the opposite: a small-market city with a fair-weather fan base in a blasé arena. In addition, the Hornets don’t seem close to being a title contender. Ball-Brunson? Hmmm.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: The Knicks already are monitoring the big Thunder guard whom they passed on in the 2018 draft (Gilgeous-Alexander went No. 11, two picks after the Knicks took Kevin Knox). Remember Gilgeous-Alexander played at Kentucky, so he’s very familiar with World Wide Wes. It’s also true that Gilgeous-Alexander’s Los Angeles-based agents once refused to have Gilgeous-Alexander work out for teams other than the Clippers. That’s how badly they wanted him in Los Angeles, but the Clippers dealt him one season after drafting him. The biggest reason Gilgeous-Alexander might want out? His workplace is Oklahoma City.
Kevin Durant: KD is back in Brooklyn for what might be a one-year shotgun marriage with coach Steve Nash. Durant’s manager and close friend, Rich Kleiman, wanted Durant to sign with the Knicks in 2019, but Durant followed Kyrie Irving to Brooklyn. It hasn’t worked out. The trouble here is Nets president Sean Marks will demand James Dolan’s first born in addition to four first-round picks to send him across the East River.
Jaylen Brown: His name was dragged around in trade talks again this summer, and it’s not the first time. If the Celtics aren’t close to title contention after this season, who knows if he would want a change after his seventh season in green.
Joel Embiid: There were rumblings the Sixers were amenable to moving Embiid in the past. If this James Harden-Embiid-Tobias Harris-Tyrese Maxey group doesn’t win a lot this season, the flamboyant center could want a change. He loves his former agent Leon Rose, and the amiable big man would be a riot on the NBA’s biggest stage.
Fight for Dwight
“Superman’’ still is a free agent, and the Knicks have two open roster spots, as I reported in Thursday’s print edition.
They could do worse at center than using one of those openings on Dwight Howard, who has played 1,242 career games.
Howard logged 17 productive minutes a game last year for an otherwise disappointing Lakers squad. Playing time in New York may not be assured unless injuries occur (Mitchell Robinson has never been durable), but the 36-year-old former All-Star could be valuable as a defensive mentor to the Knicks’ three young centers. Robinson and new signee Isaiah Hartenstein are both 24, and second-year man Jericho Sims is 23.
According to a source, Howard, who has averaged 15.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks over the course of his career, would love to be on Broadway, so it could be a no-brainer. Which means it probably won’t happen.
Inside the Knicks’ media standoff
James Dolan has done an excellent job staying out of the way of the basketball operations department, letting them do their thing the past few years.
That hasn’t been the case when it comes to the owner’s long-standing mistrust of the media.
The banning of any non-MSG-affiliated press from RJ Barrett’s contract-extension celebration for season-ticket holders Monday at the Garden was just the latest stiff-arm the team gave to any reporters trying to cover the franchise. The Jalen Brunson news conference — also held without press — started the trend.
The Knicks have decided they won’t have a media availability unless it is NBA-mandated. Even Las Vegas summer league practices were closed.
Perhaps the most the team will do in making its front office available is have Rose do a streamed fan event or an MSG Network interview prior to NBA Media Day on Sept. 26. He will not take questions from independent reporters, and hasn’t in one full year.
Furthermore, team officials have also called agents this summer to tell their Knicks clients not to talk to the media if approached. That has irked some agents who want their players to have access to the media to promote themselves and the brands they endorse.
The NBA isn’t happy at the Barrett/Brunson press bans, but there is little it can do.
Or is there? Commissioner Adam Silver said Wednesday in the next few weeks the results of the Brunson-tampering investigation will be announced. Perhaps the league will send a stern message with a hefty fine and the loss of a first-round pick.
Words of wisdom
Mike Saunders, the Knicks’ affable trainer for 27 seasons from 1978 to 2005, has a new book in which he’s collected some of the most memorable verbal gems he’s heard over the years — whether they be from a locker-room sign, something he heard or something he read.
It’s called “Life Sentence: A Collection of Quotes and Stories to Inspire, Motivate, Empower.’’ He has given the book to many of the Knicks staffers he still knows, including Tom Thibodeau. There are quotes from a wide spectrum of voices, from Gandhi to Julius Erving to Pat Riley to Thoreau. Saunders works for the USTA and lives in Boca Raton, Fla.
In 2020, the Knicks quietly promoted Anthony Goenaga, who worked for several years under Saunders, to the head trainer post. He replaced Roger Hinds, who is still with the club and has the title of “head trainer emeritus.”
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