Even as the Knicks lay the foundation of building a contender through its youth, homegrown talent, and draft picks, free-agent speculation is never too far behind.
The Knicks hired Utah Jazz assistant coach Johnnie Bryant as their associate head coach under Tom Thibodeau on Tuesday, bringing on an experienced NBA mind that’s helped develop the likes of Damian Lillard, Paul Millsap, Gordon Hayward, and Donovan Mitchell.
It’s his close work with the latter, Mitchell, that has gotten the rumor mill working yet again for the Knicks — providing hope that the organization can acquire a proven, highly-coveted talent.
Adam Zagoria of Forbes was told by a source that the Knicks want Mitchell “badly,” though there “may be a possible conflict with R.J. [Barrett]. There’s a debate in the front office if they can play together.”
Barrett, the Knicks’ 20-year-old potential star in the making was drafted third overall just last year out of Duke, where he quickly became the face of yet another Knicks rebuild under the former regime.
Both Barrett and Mitchell are shooting guards, but Mitchell is the far more proven and dangerous star.
Over the last two seasons, the 23-year-old averaged 23.9 points per game while possessing the ability to control a game with his dynamic offensive abilities. We saw that on Monday when he dropped 57 points in Game 1 of Utah’s first-round playoff series against the Denver Nuggets.
Mitchell is signed through the 2020-21 season before he becomes a restricted free agent, which once again brings another pipe dream to Knicks fans.
Recent history suggests they’ll have no shot with Mitchell, considering they’ve whiffed on notable stars like Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Kawhi Leonard just last summer. Such notable misses seem to predicated by the fact that the Knicks have been a dysfunctional franchise under owner James Dolan for the better part of the last 20 years, going seven-straight seasons without a playoff appearance.
Yet the connections between Mitchell and the Knicks will allow hope to spring eternal once more — or maybe just setting a frustrated fan base up to be disappointed once again.
Not only does Mitchell have a close relationship with Bryant, but he is a New York native having grown up in Elmsford — which is roughly 25 miles from Madison Square Garden — as a Knicks fan.
His first agent was Leon Rose, who was named the Knicks’ president earlier this season.
“Understanding that I think Leon, who I know personally — Leon Rose — things are going to trend upward,” Mitchell said back in March (h/t Newsday). “I love Leon to death. He’s a great dude, great person, and a really good businessman. So I think they’re going to start going in the right direction when he gets in there.”