Especially Mitchell. The Jazz will cater to every one of his desires in an attempt to keep him happy (and on the roster). They don’t want to host the 2023 NBA all-star game in Salt Lake City without him.
One of those desires might be to dump Gobert, the three-time defensive player of the year. He and Mitchell have yet to advance past the second round of the playoffs. And head coach Quin Snyder’s resignation suggests a major shakeup is coming.
The bulk of said shake-up speculation involves ramping up the hype train for Mitchell to New York rumors. And that makes sense given he is a star who grew up in the tri-state area. And one the Knicks passed on him in the 2017 draft. But the ironic thing is Gobert makes more sense for the Knicks than Mitchell.
It won’t happen for the Utah-centric reasons regarding Mitchell. And it doesn’t seem plausible from the Knicks’ perspective either. Trading for a defense-first, max-contract center isn’t in team president Leon Rose’s DNA. But it would make a lot of sense.
Defensive fit. Gobert is a perfect fit for what Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau wants to do. For two seasons, Thibs has repeated his intention to build the defense out from the inside. Protect the rim at all costs and spray out to shooters. There’s no better rim protector in basketball than Gobert.
Gobert is one of the best defensive players in the history of basketball. With all due respect to the Celtics’ Marcus Smart — the first guard to win the award since Gary Payton in 1996 — Gobert is the most impactful defender in the NBA by a wide margin. He has been for the last half-decade and he’s showing no signs of slowing down.
Yes, Smart is in the NBA Finals and Gobert was targeted by Luka Doncic in Utah’s first-round exit. But Smart is surrounded by a collection of good to great defenders. Gobert is surrounded by a group of bad to brutal defenders. Swap Smart for Gobert and watch Utah’s defense implode. The Knicks would surround Gobert with guys like RJ Barrett, Immanuel Quickley, Quentin Grimes, Alec Burks, and other competent defenders.
Potential trade packages. It’s going to take a king’s ransom for anyone to acquire Mitchell from the Jazz. In fact, The Athletic’s Tony Jones reports it’s going to take a “monstrous offer” to do so. For the Knicks, think a boatload of first-round picks and a handful of young players.
The questionable front court fit of Julius Randle and Gobert feels like it takes the latter out of the equation in a Mitchell trade. A Gobert for Randle swap could benefit both parties. Not to mention, Randle’s contract helps the money work with Gobert’s max deal. If Utah believes in the 2020-21 version of Randle more than the 2021-22 version, there is room to make things happen.
Randle plus Evan Fournier or Evan Burks would work from a salary cap standpoint. The Knicks would probably have to include a future first-rounder to make it work, but a move for Gobert would be more affordable than whatever package could land Mitchell.
Big bet on the kids. A package centering on Randle for Gobert would mean that the Knicks could keep the core trio of Barrett, Quickley and Obi Toppin together. But do they believe this group can develop enough to thrive in the playoffs?
Gobert is a defensive linchpin, but he can’t be an alpha dog on offense in a playoff series. It would be up to Barrett to lead that charge with Quentin Grimes, Quickley, Toppin and this year’s lottery pick to fill in the gaps.
This is the likely reason why the front office won’t even entertain the idea of trading for Gobert. It’s a massive gamble on the youth. If it didn’t work with Mitchell as the alpha dog, betting on Barrett and company would likely be too risky for the folks making decisions in Madison Square Garden.
A trade for either Utah star is a pipe dream. But if it’s a choice between Mitchell and Gobert, give me the tall French guy.