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Quentin Grimes’ dilemma: Knicks’ promising wing makes trade for Donovan Mitchell tricky

Typically, NBA teams are hesitant to trade young homegrown talent. This is especially true if said talent was undervalued by the rest of the league. When leaders find gems at the end of the first round, anywhere in the second, or on the scrap heap, they attach. The successes of these players reflect the scouting and development programs of their teams. They are often diligent workers and beloved teammates, the kind of guys who bring good vibes to the practice facility and become fan favorites.

Almost every team is obsessed with drafting and developing, in part because it lets you trade for stars. Typically, when a player like Donovan Mitchell is on the trade market, he won’t be traded for another All-Star repeatedly at a similar stage in his career. He’ll be traded for draft picks and younger, cheaper players who could potentially become All-Stars one day.

Enter Quentin Grimes, 22. He’s a 6-foot-4 wing with a 6-8 wingspan, and the New York Knicks selected him No. 25 in the 2021 draft. He averaged six points, two boards and one assist in 17 minutes as a rookie, with shooting spreads of 40-38-68. These numbers do not suggest future stardom, nor that he should be banned in trade talks. And yet, the Knicks reportedly took a tough stance when negotiating with the Utah Jazz: Grimes is banned.

In an interview with ESPN 700, Tony Jones of The Athletic said New York was ready to part ways with 24-year-old great Obi Toppin in a deal with Mitchell, but Utah wants Grimes:

“The only player who [the Knicks] trying not to get in the case is Quentin Grimes. They don’t want Quentin Grimes in the deal in any way. And the No. 1 player the Jazz want in the deal is Quentin Grimes. And I feel like the Jazz are really hesitant to do a deal without Quentin Grimes. I can tell you that the Knicks are willing to give away Jazz Obi Toppin, who is a very young and energetic power forward, but Quentin Grimes is a major sticking point at this point.”

If your take on that information is in disbelief, “Of course that guy with 14.9% UTR is the reason the Knicks didn’t trade for Mitchell no matter what you say,” then you might want to punctuate it with a Rodrigue Beaubois reference. In February 2010, before the trade deadline, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said a Beaubois rookie — the No. 25 pick, just like Grimes — was “virtually untouchable.”

“There are maybe one or two players in the league that I would trade him for,” Cuban said. “That’s it.”

Beaubois had an encouraging rookie year, including a 40-point game in March, but his progress stalled when he broke his foot the following summer. He needed another operation on the same foot after his second season and, since breaking his hand in 2013, his fourth and final season with the Mavericks, Beaubois has been playing in Europe. I was a great Beaubois, but I admit that he should never have been untouchable.

On All-Star weekend in 2011, the Knicks had a late-night meeting with the Denver Nuggets to negotiate a trade with Carmelo Anthony. Anthony himself was at the meeting, along with his then-agent Leon Rose, who is now the New York team president. The Knicks and Nuggets had been talking since the previous summer, but this was different: Anthony was watching the two sides haggle over picks and players. One of them was rookie center Timofey Mozgov, who a few weeks earlier scored 23 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in a win over a dysfunctional Detroit Pistons, prompting fans at Madison Square Garden to chant his name. in stride.

Mozgov had appeared in 34 NBA games and was averaging 4.0 points, 3.1 rebounds and 0.7 blocks in 13.5 minutes. Aside from that Pistons game, he had only scored in double figures once. But the Nuggets contingent, led by then-general manager Masai Ujiri, insisted on having him. “We want mozgov, that was the deal,” Anthony recalled on ESPN’s “The Woj Pod,” laughing. “Timofey Mozgov. Mozgov was the dealbreaker in the New York trade.” The Knicks eventually relented, but they were able to hang on to rookie wing Landry Fields.

Knowing that Mozgov would become a solid player and that a mysterious nerve injury would derail Fields’ playing career, these negotiations seem foolish. Years from now, it might seem equally silly that New York and Utah, two logical partners for this particular blockbuster, were hooked on a guy for whom looked excellent in summer league perhaps counts as his greatest professional achievement.

Counterpoint: Do you see Grimes in the summer league?

Grimes was primarily a 3-D guy in his first season with the Knicks, a dependable wing who knocked down open jumpers, made good calls and played physical perimeter defense. He built on the foundation he had established during his two seasons in Houston, and there were flashes of play off the dribble that defined his game ahead of his tough first year at Kansas. Fans wanted him to play more and hoped to see more of those flashes. In that regard, the summer league was everything they imagined and more.

As a shooter, Grimes was a threat wherever he went, ready to shoot deep moves, out of move, in transition and out of dribble:

With the ball in his hands, he was just as assertive. Grimes attacked the fences, and he also made pick-and-roll plays and dribble-handoffs. He went to bigs that turned to him, and he beat center Jericho Sims with several slick passes.

Standing out in the summer league does not guarantee anything. Ask Beaubois or Anthony Randolph, another reputedly untouchable player in the NBA who only found stable ground once he went overseas. The style in which Grimes has played, however, suggests he is the type of player every team wants. At worst, he will complement star players well and take nothing off the table. At best, he’s set for a Desmond Bane-style leap in his sophomore season.

That he’s undersized and unproven allows the Jazz to demand Grimes and multiple first-round picks in exchange for a guy who dominated the playoffs. He’s shown just enough upside, though, that they and the Knicks reasonably want to see how his game develops. Sometimes teams are vindicated for liking their young guys a lot — the Philadelphia 76ers reportedly refused to offer rookie Tyrese Maxey to the Houston Rockets in James Harden packages in 2021, and they ended up getting Harden the following year, with Maxey in the middle of an escape.

New York has been waiting years to acquire a star like Mitchell, but it makes sense that it wouldn’t give up Grimes without a fight. Would it make sense for Grimes to be the reason the Knicks don’t have Mitchell? Maybe not, but that’s not the way to look at it anyway. In this ESPN 700 interview, Jones reported that Grimes wasn’t the only sticking point. New York’s best offer “contained a number of first-round picks, but most of them were protected rather than unprotected,” Jones said. The Jazz appreciate the Knicks’ unprotected picks more than other teams’ first protected picks.

In other words, if New York is willing to trade all the picks Utah wants, then it can probably keep Grimes and get Mitchell. Earlier this offseason, Jazz president Danny Ainge “pushed hard” to get Jaden McDaniels of the Minnesota Timberwolves in a deal with Rudy Gobert, according to The Athletic’s Jon Krawczynski and Jones. When Wolves held their ground on McDaniels, Utah demanded more picks instead. The Knicks aren’t weighing exactly what Grimes could be against who Mitchell already is; they weigh what he could be against what it would cost to keep him out of the case.


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