Mitchell Robinson
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Mitchell Robinson’s time in New York has run its course.

It wasn’t long ago that Mitchell Robinson was envisioned as the New York Knicks’ young center of the future.

The former second-round pick could do it all on defense. His blocks were thunderous and Robinson was no slouch on the boards either. Everyone fell under the young seven-footer’s spell, even yours truly. I wrote back in 2019 how the then-21-year-old could easily win Defensive Player of the Year with a good season.

A pandemic and injury-plagued third season later, Mitchell Robinson is now more a “what could have been” center rather than what could be. His immense talent is often overshadowed either by his latest injury or mental mistakes on the court. His constant conditioning issues got him removed from the starting lineup this week.

Thus, the New York Knicks have two options: They can either give Robinson a long-rumored extension and keep hoping he reaches his potential, or they can make the hard decision and seek to add a player who can improve their paint presence now.


Mitchell Robinson isn’t worth the headache anymore

As I write this, Robinson is coming off one of his worst performances of the season. Coming off the bench in Wednesday’s 122-102 loss to the Indiana Pacers, he had just four points and two rebounds and blocks apiece. Robinson also attempted (and made) just one shot in his 19 minutes.

Now, in fairness to Mitchell Robinson, Wednesday’s game against the Pacers was the second half of a back-to-back. In Tuesday’s win over the San Antonio Spurs, he actually had a great game off the bench. In San Antonio, Robinson tallied 11 points, 14 rebounds, and three blocks in 22 minutes.

Yet, Wednesday’s clunker was the latest chapter in Robinson being unreliable. Between his fragility, lack of conditioning, and inability to produce outside the paint, he’s practically a liability already.


The Knicks need a better center

All this to say, the New York Knicks could find their answer in the trade market. Shams Charania of The Athletic reports the very same Pacers who just torched the Knicks are inching towards a rebuild. Even better, it seems Indiana is open to moving one of Domantas Sabonis or Myles Turner, the team’s star big men.

For context, the two combined for 43 points and 15 rebounds against the Knicks on Wednesday and shot a collective 15 of 21 from the field, plus 5 of 9 from three.

Now, consider how the Knicks have struggled to defend centers that can stretch the floor in some losses this season. Chicago Bulls big man Nikola Vucevic tagged the Knicks for 27 points last week, including five threes. Two days later, reigning MVP Nikola Jokic scored 32 at Madison Square Garden and sunk three threes.

And who do the New York Knicks have to show at center? There’s Nerlens Noel, whose length provides great interior defense when he isn’t dealing with his latest bump and/or bruise. Taj Gibson can still protect a rim, but he’s 36 and already slowing down. Robinson’s talent is still noticeable, but we’ve just discussed how he may not be as reliable as originally thought.


So what comes next?

All signs point to one truth: the New York Knicks simply have to make a deal. Just how acquiring Derrick Rose last year boosted the offense, so much Leon Rose and Scott Perry do the same for the defense this season.

And as ESNY’s own Danny Small has said, the Knicks have what it takes to make a deal for Myles Turner on several fronts:

It’s safe to assume a trade for Myles Turner wouldn’t come cheap. The good news for the Knicks is that they have a treasure chest of young players, veterans on flexible contracts, and draft assets.

If they want to get a deal done, they have the ammunition. It’s up to Leon Rose and the rest of the front office to decide how much is too much for Turner.

Think about it. New York owns two first-round picks in next year’s NBA Draft, and has viable veterans like Alec Burks and the aforementioned Noel on fairly inexpensive contracts. Additionally, even though he’s regressed across the board this season, Robinson’s ceiling is still such that he too is a pretty solid trade chip. Remember, this is the same man who owns the record for highest individual field-goal percentage in a season.

One way or another, the NBA has evolved to a point where a purely paint-dominant center is a dying breed. If the New York Knicks are indeed all-in on contending now, then this is the next phase of the team evolving. A big who can shoot is absolutely necessary, if not critically essential.

That means swallowing a lot of pride and admitting that Mitchell Robinson, once a young legend in the making, might not be the guy.

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.