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Narratives dominate Donovan Mitchell trade talks

As Donovan Mitchell trade discussions evolve as the offseason marches on, public facing narratives are dominate the landscape as both sides aim to establish leverage in negotiations

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Dallas Mavericks v Utah Jazz - Game Six
Public news on the Donovan Mitchell trade front has shifted to a battle of narratives framed from both sides aiming at establishing leverage in negotiations
Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

The Donovan Mitchell trade saga continues. What started last week as a report of Utah no longer turning down inquiries on Donovan’s availability turned into reports that the Utah Jazz are in active negotiations with New York as the principal bidder.

Jazz Nation has been on pins and needles since The Athletic’s joint reporting by Shams Charania and Tony Jones last Thursday. So where do things stand?

By all accounts, negotiations are hitting the hard ball phase. Ian Begley of SNY Sports believes that “A deal eventually will get done here, but I’d be surprised if it happens in the coming days.”

Local beat writer Tony Jones was hosted on The Drive with Spence Checketts, in which he mentioned that the Jazz asked for six of the Knicks tradeable first round picks and most of their young guys (Quentin Grimes, Immanuel Quickley, Obi Toppin, Miles McBride).

Tony has also reiterated that “Either a team is gonna come up to what [the Utah Jazz] want or [they] keep him...what the Jazz want are picks.”

Conflicting reports have surfaced about how far along talks were, some suggesting talks were close while others imply there wasn’t much common ground.

Such has been the firestorm of narratives, official and otherwise, surrounding the Donovan Mitchell negotiations.

Fans have taken to Twitter to share their opinions:

Monday has brought additional news on the trade front, with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski citing both teams as motivated to reengage talks at some point. He also commented that he expects Utah to engage other teams to gauge Mitchell’s value.

Brian Windorst and Tim Bontemps believe the the pressure to be on the Knicks, citing the Rudy Gobert deal as Ainge “moving the damn game down the field” in the context of setting a new bar for star trades.

Given the reporting, it’s no longer an “if” Donovan will be traded but when and for how much.

While a deal could be announced any minute, reading the landscape tells us it’s more likely that news will break in a few days to a couple weeks. Great ready to strap in. The Utah Jazz and the New York Knicks are set to dominate the NBA headlines for the rest of the offseason.

2022 NBA Playoffs - Dallas Mavericks v Utah Jazz
Donovan Mitchell engages with the media after the Utah Jazz playoff elimination at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks
Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Let’s now explore the narratives ebbing from both sides.

The Knicks believe their core of young players to hold quite a bit of value. Last year’s pick Quentin Grimes showed out in the summer league with 22.6 pts, 4.2 rbs, 4.0 ast and 3.2 TOVs on 55% TS. Obi Toppin’s athleticism and Immanuel Quickley’s scoring improvement has many within the NYK franchise excited.

The Knicks also secured additional 1st round picks from DET, MIL, WAS, and DAL to bolster their draft pick offering.

They signed Jalen Brunson during free agency and extended Mitchell Robinson. Both are expected to play big roles for the Knicks and send them to new heights, with or without Donovan.

From the outside looking in, the Jazz have signaled a fire sale. Royce O’Neale was moved for a future 1st round pick, Rudy Gobert was dealt for a historic haul of picks, and Utah chose not to retain a handful of last year’s players (Trent Forrest, Juancho Hernangomez, Eric Paschall).

The Knicks believe Utah wants to begin the season with a tank-ready roster at all costs. They don’t believe the Jazz are interested in either cobbling together a decent roster by first tip or keeping Donovan in limbo until a deal is done.

New York doesn’t believe Utah has many other suitors. Miami doesn’t have the draft capital or young players early in their rookie deal to make a competitive offer. Brooklyn would need to include Ben Simmons in a Donovan deal and Utah has signaled their interest to be in picks and rookie deal players. No other teams appear to be rumored with serious interest at this point.

Dallas Mavericks v Utah Jazz - Game Six
Donovan Mitchell appears to be sending signals this offseason that he is preparing for a trade to his hometown Knicks
Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

Now, how does Utah see the situation?

The Jazz have Donovan Mitchell under contract for 3 guaranteed years. There’s no concern on the team’s end of a trade request or sitting out tanking his value. He’ll be 26 by season’s start, is healthy, and a phenomenal star on and off the court. There are zero red flags that would preclude interested teams now being less interested in the future.

The Jazz are prepared to hold onto Mitchell through the season and are open to various permutations of his involvement with the team. Philadelphia held out for their ideal return with Ben Simmons, Houston sat John Wall for the tank, and Oklahoma City has played Shai Gilgeous-Alexander amidst the tank.

Utah is interested in picks and rookies with years left on their deal. They don’t want to pay RJ Barrett and he doesn’t fit their timeline.

The Jazz are interested in Grimes, Toppin, and Quickley but don’t see them as cornerstone pieces. In short, these young guys help grease the wheels on some deals but aren’t components of the deal’s foundation.

Utah is very bearish on the DAL, DET, MIL, and WAS picks. All have heavy protections which means the DAL and MIL picks will be in the late 20’s while the DET and WAS picks may never convey (i.e. will expire). Like the young guys, these picks are ancillary pieces and not the crux of a deal.

Utah Jazz Introduce Will Hardy as Head Coach
Danny Ainge has taken a franchise blowing in the wind and given it a direction
Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Danny Ainge has walked away from many deals in the past, like trying to acquire Anthony Davis and being unwilling to include Jayson Tatum. He’s also fast tracked deals when the return is satisfactory, like in the Rudy Gobert deal.

The Utah Jazz know that the Knicks earmarked Devin Booker, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Donovan Mitchell as long term targets when Leon Rose became their GM. Only one of those targets is available, with Booker and Towns signing big extensions with promising team futures.

The Knicks have also publicly made clear their intentions to trade for a star and have fast tracked their asset acquisition to do just that. The Jazz believe they’ve tipped their hand.

So who has the leverage?

Ultimately, Danny Ainge’s reputation wins out here. It’s too early to say what kind of a GM Leon Rose is but there are undisputed facts. New York has signaled desperation and intention. Utah has signaled availability. It’s ultimately about getting close enough to the asking price to cross the threshold.

Danny is patient, which is often labeled as a fault by fans. However, he’s built a reputation on only making deals with as high reward and low risk as possible. He’s never painted his franchise into a corner and he’s nailed deal after deal.

As hard as it may be as fans, let’s take a page out of Ainge’s playbook and exhibit patience. By all accounts, a deal will get done. The longer Danny holds out, the better deal Jazz fans can reasonably expect.