RJ Barrett’s new contract throws a wrench into Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell trade talks. So now what?

On Monday, the New York Knicks came to terms with small forward RJ Barrett on a hefty contract extension that will make a potential trade for Donovan Mitchell more difficult, largely because the Jazz were pushing for Barrett’s inclusion in the deal. They thought he would fit well into their overall system, and sources say Barrett’s camp was bracing for the Duke product to be on the move.

Barrett’s extension doesn’t take him all the way out of a potential deal between the teams, but it makes his inclusion more difficult. A poison pill provision is doing most of the work to make it more difficult. (In essence, the Knicks can only take in about $15 million in exchange for Barrett’s $30 million, making it nearly impossible for the teams to match salaries in a potential trade.)

This does not rule out the possibility that the teams can construct the framework of a deal that satisfies each. But, it does make the water murkier. From a Jazz perspective, they know if they trade Mitchell to the Knicks, they are surrendering the best player in the deal no matter what the trade ends up becoming. It’s one of the reasons the price tag is what it is.

That said, the Jazz value three players on the Knicks’ roster: Barrett, shooting guard Quentin Grimes and hybrid forward Obi Toppin. The news about Barrett’s extension almost certainly takes him out of the equation. So the Jazz are going to have to ask and answer this question for themselves: Is the best of the rest the Knicks can offer worth further discussion, negotiation and progress towards a possible deal?

On Monday night, league sources told The Athletic that the Knicks are banking on the answer being yes. New York still feels it has the best package the Jazz can get for Mitchell. But, now the question the Knicks have to answer for themselves is how far they are willing to go to get him.

The Jazz holding onto Mitchell — which they have repeatedly indicated they are happy to do, sources with direct knowledge of the situation say — brings significant risk. It will require Mitchell, who is currently working out in Miami and preparing for the season, to buy into what the Jazz are doing. It will require Mitchell to play through any lingering disappointment of not being traded. The Jazz don’t feel that will be an issue and have always been high on Mitchell’s overall character. But, the questions once training camp starts will still be asked, and his mere presence will be a dominant topic.

If the Knicks don’t make a deal for Mitchell and they get off to a rocky start to the season, they risk facing criticism for their decision to extend Barrett now. New York figures to be an improved team, for the simple reason of Jalen Brunson ensuring that the Knicks will finally have competent point guard play and a steady presence at the position on both ends of the floor. The lack of one last season — at times, the Knicks played Alec Burks there — went a long way towards torpedoing the progress the Knicks made in qualifying for the playoffs two years ago.

At the same time, even if New York is an improved team, the Eastern Conference looks to be its deepest and most complete in years. So, what happens if the Knicks get off to a bad start? If Mitchell is in Utah, do the questions start as to why he isn’t in blue and orange?

Those are questions the Jazz and Knicks front offices have to ask and answer for themselves. In other words: Is it worth it to the Knicks and the Jazz to not do a Mitchell deal?

In many ways, the sides are still good partners for a potential deal. The object of a trade is for both sides to win, and there has been far too much haggling on social media between the two fan bases on which side has the most “leverage.”

In truth, if this deal is to eventually happen, the Jazz and the Knicks need each other. The Knicks will need the Jazz to come back to the bargaining table. The Jazz will need the Knicks to make it worth their while to part with Mitchell. What does that look like without Barrett? It almost certainly means, from a Jazz point of view, that both Grimes and Toppin need to be the package. With Barrett, the Jazz thought they could get a building block for their future with a real shot at becoming a star. Without Barrett, the Jazz know they won’t get back a player with that kind of upside, although they are high on Grimes and Toppin. The Knicks, league sources say, have been very hesitant to include Grimes in any trade package. With Barrett now off the table, does that stance change?

Then, the question becomes, what of the picks?

The Jazz have a treasure chest of future unprotected first-rounders. The Knicks have been hesitant to part with a significant number of unprotected picks of their own. They certainly want Mitchell, but the Knicks also want to preserve their future. It’s a big reason they didn’t want to place Grimes in the framework of a deal. They want Mitchell, plus the future flexibility to acquire another significant player down the road.

As a result, Barrett’s signing has produced a stalemate, halting what league sources say was progress towards a deal over the weekend. At one point, talks entered the stage where they were considered serious. Monday night’s developments no doubt serve as a blow to a potential deal, but they aren’t a death knell.

Utah has a couple of options. It can come back to the table, convene with the Knicks and attempt to find a different framework that works for all parties. Or, the Jazz can bring Mitchell into training camp, keep him as the season starts and see what develops. Either way, as the calendar flips to September, we have four weeks remaining until training camp starts, a little less than five weeks before the preseason begins, and multiple veterans whose near-term basketball futures are in limbo when said season starts.

So while the Jazz aren’t out of time, they are approaching the point where they must make some decisions as to what the rest of their roster is going to look like. For more than a month, there were two visions: a roster with Mitchell and one without. There is currently a logjam at the guard spots, with Mitchell, Mike Conley, Malik Beasley, Jared Butler, Jordan Clarkson, Talen Horton-Tucker, Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Leandro Bolmaro. Not one of those guys can naturally play small forward. They are all either point guards or shooting guards.

If the Jazz keep Mitchell, they will have to think about whether they want to sign a veteran big man, of which there are plenty on the free-agent market. And they have to figure out whether they want to trade any of their other veterans for another asset. Someone like Bojan Bogdanovic, for example, who has interest in the market.

Or, Utah and New York can find a way to make a deal work. Or, the Jazz can deal Mitchell to a team not named the Knicks.

Either way, the Knicks and the Jazz have internal questions they need to answer. And whatever answers they come up with will shape the coming days and weeks.


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(Photo of Donovan Mitchell: Jim McIsaac / Getty Images)

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