/Donovan Mitchell excited to face hometown Knicks in playoffs

Donovan Mitchell excited to face hometown Knicks in playoffs

Throughout the summer and into September, the Knicks pursued Donovan Mitchell with fervor.

He was the object of her affection, a local star who wanted to come home. Pundits saw it as a certainty that the former Louisville star would eventually don the orange and blue and form a potent 1-2 punch at the back with Jalen Brunson.

Instead of the Knicks and Jazz trading, however, Mitchell was sent to the Cavaliers and, in a twist of irony, his first postseason series with Cleveland will be against his hometown team.

It’s the ultimate first-round postseason story: Mitchell vs. the amazing Knicks, the Elmsford, NY native facing the team he so badly wanted him to be a key part of their future.

“It’s a full circle. I wouldn’t want it any other way,” the four-time All-Star, who averaged a career-best 28.3 points this season, said recently. “What kid wouldn’t want to grow up and play his hometown team in the playoffs?

“I think it’s something really special and near and dear to me to be able to play in a playoff. [series] in front of my friends and family. A team I grew up watching. Against a guy who’s an assistant coach over there [Johnnie Bryant] who basically taught me everything I know right now. So he’s great. I’m excited for the challenge.”

Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell (45) shoots in front of Brooklyn Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie
Donovan Mitchell came close to being a Knick, but he will face them in the first round of the playoffs.
for the New York POST

When it became apparent that the Jazz were going to reduce their roster after a first-round playoff loss to the Mavericks in which Brunson beat Dallas, it was considered that Mitchell would likely head to the Knicks.

Its president, Leon Rose, was once its agent.

Mitchell, 26, had, and still has, a close relationship with Bryant dating back to Bryant’s time with the Jazz.

The Knicks were loaded with assets, young players and draft picks.

Knicks guard Jalen Brunson in action against Cleveland Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell.
The Knicks envisioned a backyard with Mitchell and Jalen Brunson.

But after extensive business talks between the two parties, it never came to fruition.

The Jazz ended up getting a lot from Cleveland: Collin Sexton, Lauri Markkanen, Ochai Agbaji, three first-round picks and two pick trades.

He was seen as a strong comeback at the time, and has only gotten better, after Markkanen’s breakout season to become a Most Improved Player award contender.

Exactly what went wrong for the Knicks in their search for Mitchell remains uncertain.

There were reports that the Knicks and Jazz were unwilling to agree on the number of unprotected first-round picks and disagreements over which players the Knicks would include.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Knicks were unwilling to include Quentin Grimes along with RJ Barrett and draft picks, and instead sought to include Immanuel Quickley in the deal.

The Post reported at the time that the Knicks did not want to send the Jazz three unprotected first-round picks.

“In [Sept. 1], I went to sleep like, ‘OK, I’m on the Knicks. I’m going to New York and I’m building a house at home,’” Mitchell said on ‘The Old Man and the Three’ podcast with JJ Redick and Tommy Alter.

The next day, he was headed to Cleveland.

Rose received heavy criticism early in the season, as the Knicks got off to a 10-13 start and appeared to be losing a closer like Mitchell in close games.

    Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell (45) dribbles the ball against the Orlando Magic
USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

In his first game against the Cavaliers, Mitchell had 38 points, tallied 12 assists and was dominant in the fourth quarter of a 13-point win at Cleveland on October 30.

“We have to do better, and we will,” coach Tom Thibodeau said that night.

He was correct.

The Knicks became one of the biggest surprises in the league, easily surpassing their preseason win count of 39.5 with 47 wins and finishing fifth in the Eastern Conference.

Brunson, an All-Star snub, exceeded expectations, while Julius Randle enjoyed a strong comeback season.

Those young players the Knicks clung to by not trading for Mitchell — especially Quickley, a Sixth Man of the Year favorite — were key factors in the Knicks posting their most wins in a single season in a decade.

They’ve beaten the Cavaliers in each of their last three meetings and prevailed without an injured Randle in the last one, mainly because Brunson produced a superhuman 48-point effort.

Mitchell has seen that before.

Brunson averaged 27.8 points in the Mavericks’ series win over Utah last April, six games that played a big part in the Jazz’s breakup of the team.

The two were seen as possible teammates for much of the offseason, particularly after Brunson signed with the Knicks.

It would have been a dream scenario.

Now, it could turn into a nightmare for the Knicks, getting eliminated by the player they couldn’t get who wanted to come home.