There are myriad reasons why Donovan Mitchell might want to leave Utah: basketball-scheme reasons, social reasons, social-justice reasons.
However, Spence Checketts, the longtime radio host in Salt Lake City and son of former Garden president, Dave Checketts, believes a trade plea won’t come until after next season.
And when the request does come down, Checketts senses the Knicks will be atop Mitchell’s wish list.
In the meantime, according to Checketts’ prediction, the Jazz will move on from French shot-blocking center Rudy Gobert, convinced that relationship is too frayed.
“I have good relationships over there so you can call it an informed opinion,” Checketts told The Post. “I think they’re going to try to move on from Gobert, acquire some pieces to surround Donovan with a more modernized roster — bigger wings, more athletic. I think they’re going to try to build this thing around him as much as possible with the idea of keeping him around here as long as possible.”
The All-Star Game is coming to Utah next season, so ownership is sensitive, according to Checketts.
“The new owner Ryan Smith has learned to acquiesce to anything Donovan wants,” said Checketts, host of ESPN700’s “The Drive” in Utah. “They did a jersey rebrand because Donovan didn’t love the jersey. They play different music in the arena because of him. He’s very catered to.
“I’m of the understanding Ryan wants Donovan to be the face of the team for All-Star weekend. If they do everything they can to appease his every need, then it gives them an excuse, if he does walk, that they tried everything.”
The Mitchell-Gobert union began its erosion after Mitchell accused the Frenchman of infecting him with COVID-19, a series of events which led to the league’s shutdown on March 11, 2020.
“Let’s call it the way it is — he can’t stand Gobert and wants him gone,” Checketts said. “They haven’t repaired that personal relationship since then. Basketball scheme-wise, teams go small and five-out (at the 3-point line). Donovan cares about cachet and popularity and Rudy is the least popular All-Star in the NBA.
“But Patrick Ewing wanted to beat the s–t out of John Starks every offseason,” added Checketts, who was around the 1990’s Knicks.
“You don’t have to be great friends. But the combination of losing in the playoffs, all indications are Rudy is the guy to go. Ryan and (minority owner) Dwyane Wade are very committed to Donovan as face of the franchise.”
Does Mitchell want to stick? After a first-round KO at the hands of the Mavericks, Mitchell sounded noncommittal. He said he needed time to evaluate.
Several NBA teams, including the Knicks, are monitoring his situation. Knicks president Leon Rose was one of Mitchell’s former agents.
Checketts has known Mitchell from the beginning of his Utah career. They lived in the same Salt Lake apartment complex. Checketts conducted the first-ever interview with Mitchell after he got picked 13th in the 2017 draft.
“His remarks were typical Donovan – not showing his hand,” Checketts said. “He’s really careful. It was neither ‘I’m gone’ nor ‘I’ll be back.’ He’s been carefully studied. He’s a CAA guy. The Leon tie is real and it’s there. All CAA guys are told to read from the script.”
While Checketts pointed out a dip in his efficiency statistics this season and a poor playoffs (he shot 39.8 percent, 20.8 from 3), he commended Mitchell for his demeanor. Mitchell grew up in Westchester, then Greenwich, Conn. His father, Donovan Mitchell Sr., was a former minor-league baseball player and works for the Mets in alumni relations.
“I was super impressed how polished and measured and sharp he was,” Checketts recalled about his 2017 draft-night exclusive. “He said how much he loved his time in Salt Lake when he worked out, how excited he was to be with the Jazz. His dad raised him right—his mom too. Very savvy. Very smart. He doesn’t misstep when he comes to his statements.”
Nevertheless, Mitchell has been an outspoken advocate on social justice and that hasn’t always been met cheerily in Utah.
Checketts said he’s been “very outspoken” on the police incidents involving George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Mitchell gave “Say Her Name” on his jersey back during the 2020 bubble event in Orlando.
“We live in a city that’s 92 percent Caucasian and 2.7 African American,” Checketts said. “We live in a very conservative, Republican, white religious state. There are a lot of people uncomfortable with Donovan voicing his opinion. I think it’s stupid. One of the things I love having Donovan here is he raised awareness to issues folks here put blinders on here.
“But he’s been subject to online backlash by those who aren’t comfortable with things Donovan cares about. I wonder if he says, “I don’t need this hassle. Maybe he wants a more diverse, inclusive place. This is not that.”
The consensus in Utah, Checketts says, is Mitchell won’t play beyond his contract. He has an opt-out in 2025. But Checketts doesn’t see his reckoning coming before the summer of 2023 if things don’t turn.
“When he’s asked about it, all he says is he wants to win,” Checketts said. “If that’s the case, he’s not going to want to play for the Knicks. If he’s all about winning, he has a shot to win here. Over the past five years, they’re third in regular-season wins at Milwaukee and Toronto, but only won two playoff series. They got to fix their roster around them (Mitchell and Gobert).
“Of course the Knicks want him,” Checketts added. “He’s awesome. And there’s a good chance he might want to go back home. But not to be harsh. I don’t think he’s good enough to hold any organization hostage.”