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In Hell, the only GM to trade with is Danny Ainge

Donovan Mitchell trade season was a long, disgusting slog.

2022 NBA Summer League - Dallas Mavericks v Utah Jazz Photo by Jeff Bottari/NBAE via Getty Images

You couldn’t script a more perfectly Knicks dilemma than the one presented this summer by the Donovan Mitchell trade — a will they/won’t they existential crisis that conjured all the old ghosts and resumed the age old tribal warfare amongst the faction that wants to push their chips in and win now and the faction whos want to develop through the draft and organic team building. Ultimately, it all came to nothing, which for some represents a monumental, perhaps generational fuck up we will certainly have to hear about from joyless assholes every time RJ Barrett has a bad game the same night Mitchell goes off for 36 points on 23 shots with three assists this season, and for others a dodged bullet.

No need to rehash here, if you’re reading this you know all the beats, and I’ll leave the analysis of everything that went wrong or right from a basketball standpoint to my coworkers. I will tip my hand and say as an older Knicks fan, I recognized Mitchell as one in a long lineage of pretend saviors we’d mortgage the future on for 10 years of annoying pull quotes and maybe at best a single second-round playoff loss. I don’t know what kind of future we get with the collection of potentially magic beans we’ve amassed over the last few years, and I know Thibs isn’t the shepherd to water and grow them, but I’m more intrigued by the prospect of trying a new approach for the first time in two decades and seeing where that takes us.

But enough about basketball; let’s talk about noise. Let’s discuss what is news and what is truth and what exactly it is we’re doing when we’re talking about our respective teams and leagues on the internet. You might be surprised to look back and discover the Knicks made all of their actual roster moves on the very first day of free agency. This is because while they weren’t the league’s main character this offseason, they were close by, taking a huge percentage of the oxygen required to produce chatter.

I’d heard the rumors over the years and was familiar with the cliché that Danny Ainge — owner of the world’s most punchable face, who generally looks at his rosters from the same perspective Orson Welles views human beings at the top of a Ferris Wheel — was the king of almost-trades and trade chatter and press manipulation, but I’d never been on the receiving end of one of these limp wristed, drawn out affairs. It is a truly excruciating process, having to slog through different permutations of young players a 63-year-old guy who still goes by Danny may or may not be interested in, which heavily protected late first round picks does he want, how many unprotected first round picks will drag us over the finish line, can we lightly protect one of those picks? No? What if we throw in *checks notes* Jericho Sims? Etc.

But Ainge only appears to be the antagonist. At the height of Hack-a-Shaq, as a strategy, Gregg Popovich explained why he kept doing it. His answer was basically he didn’t want to, but as long as these are the rules, as constituted, he had to. It would be malpractice not to, and that’s how I’ve come to look at Ainge and all his insufferable J.J. Hunsecker/Machiavelli machinations. He’s simply exploiting a system to get the best possible deal. The issue is the system. The issue is us.

New York City is quite simply, the hardest place to play professional sports in America. There’s no other market with a long and storied history of absolute unimpeachable talent coming to their team and immediately falling apart, in some instances only for a few seasons before finally finding their balance, and in some instances it’s the end of their career and they never recover. It’s some cocktail of the size and pace of the city, the intensity of the fans, the churn of the tabloid press. It does the same to front offices, to coaches. Svengalis with unimpeachable CVs have come and gone in a long procession, all laid to waste in a decline that could be charted in New York Post back page puns, the dad jokes getting worse, the critiques more vitriolic as another titan’s legacy is reduced to ash.

Ainge recognized this when he preyed on Billy King and a Russian petro-baron christening his brand new arena. Masai Ujiri recognized it when he kept pumping the price on the Knicks’ desire to mortgage an entire decade in exchange for hearing a single Skylar Grey chorus. And this summer, Ainge returned to the scene of the crime in an attempt to double tap a target across the bridge from his greatest triumph. It almost worked.

On August 19th, Twitter suggested I’d be interested in a Tweet from this guy, Tim Montemayor. The little research I did on him for the sole purpose of writing an informed paragraph here reveals he went to a junior college where he studied business management for two years in the early 90s, and got a real estate license in Arizona in 2016. He’s worked as a sports talk personality for 20+ years, and seems to focus on the greater Salt Lake Market, but he also generally supports Chicago teams. There’s a link on his page that leads you here, a day trading tutorial service that’s sole purpose appears to be preying on retirees in the throes of senility who need to find something to do with their time because their grandkids never call them. The actual handle on his account is torn from an annoying popup ad: YouTube: The Monty Show – SUBSCRIBE. He’s also a self described sneakerhead.

Anyways, on August 19th, he posted this:

And he goes on to say this on the thread, a Tweet presented as fact that was so brazen in the moment, I actually screenshot it, and I’m glad I did because it’s since been deleted:

But what is truly remarkable, is the next day Marc Berman at The Post published this, an article that is not quite as laughably absurd but at least upholds the broad merits of the initial Tweet, that the Jazz and Knicks had resumed trade talks. There’s a video at the top of the post you could watch in which Berman outlines the salient points of his post word for words, like one of those apps that reads an audio version of a written piece in bot voice, and you can watch it, but as a warning, when I did, fluid started leaking out of my ears and a drowned Japanese teenager tried to crawl out of my laptop.

The article is quite frankly a masterpiece. If you go somewhere quiet to read it, you can hear Berman checking his word count after each sentence as he regurgitates the timeline stuff that we all know already. He pulls up just shy of explaining the rules of basketball. Its cited sources are: “multiple industry sources”, “a coaching source”, “One individual”, “Some in the Knicks organization”, “One Western Conference Scout”, “a source”, and “ESPN Insider Stephen A. Smith”.

What followed is the predictable Knicks echo chamber, what came after every slight adjustment in the latest trade package, as to whether the Jazz were more interested in IQ or Grimes or Obi, if Fournier was the salary fill or Randle, could the third pick be lightly protected. Some debated the merits of each package, whether it was appropriate or too much, it was used as an excuse to go deep on, say, Obi to reflect on what he’s brought to the table or what he could bring in the future, or an analysis of Mitchell’s shortcomings and how he’d work with Brunson. You know, basketball stuff. Then there’s politics, a question of who is in the room helping to make this decision, what Strangelove-esque cast of misfits and trolls have influence and seats around the table. And the know it all guys were calling play by play on the game behind the game, about who was leaking what to whom and why and what they really were after. Many of these same guys were explaining why Mitchell Robinson certainly walking was a done deal a few weeks ago.

I realize the irony of me writing all this for a website that lives in the micro-stories, the ebbs and flows of the Knicks news cycle, particularly during a bone dry offseason when there isn’t much to discuss. We all have jobs to do, and my colleagues did an admirable job carrying the water during this particular saga. I didn’t contribute much to because I had little to say. But I’d point out what we do in situations like these is largely an aggregating service for fans. In our stories on the trade talks, we would cite reporters who are doing real work and have a vetted track records, we didn’t pretend to be breaking any news ourselves or fabricating anything in lieu of actual developments. Woj tweets the Blazers are going to draft a player, and five minutes later they do. Shams tweets a free agent is signing with the Mavericks, and then it happens. These stories of course need to be reported and told and they’re unfolding, but it’s the more irresponsible and click baiting garbage I’m referring to, the noise in the absence of noise, the newsy shit. The best reporting we do on this shit, unsurprisingly, are the deep dive postmortems after the deal is done or dead. Like this piece from my colleague, Matt Miranda. And maybe that’s how it should be.

What was so alarming about being subjected to this excruciating and endless cycle circling a trade that never was is so much of the conversation around it seemed to be drawn out of the air. You can just say some anonymous source told you anything and there’s no system to vet it. For all we know, Tim Montemayor was one of Berman’s ”industry sources.” And yet we all dedicated so much of our summer to this. We have a duty, or perhaps, a need to spend entire days and weeks arguing about this inane shit, speculating and bloviating, trying to sound informed and smart and shaping a narrative that is just that, a work of fucking fan fiction. This discourse for the sake of discourse feels like the end result is a loss of forest for trees, an erosion of something tied up in what all this is for, that just makes everyone involved dumber for the time invested in nothing. Maybe we should demand more from our news cycle, and ourselves.

I love living in New York but one of the things that starts to grate on you a few decades in is the invisible hand of impotent bureaucracy that governs everything. You can see the shadow of what, say, the Department of Health, or the Department of Buildings, or the NYPD, was theoretically created to do, to protect people and help people, but you have to deal with what these institutions have calcified into — scaffolding on top of scaffolding, bodies organized for no real purpose at this point besides to continue operating, what amounts to city sanctioned extortion in a world filled with rubber rooms for bad teachers and shitty cops that can’t be fired and building codes that exist to pay rent for architects and expediters and the clerks who rubber stamp the plans. It’s an entire parasitic ecosystem where every organism subsists siphoning nutrients on the underside of a slightly larger organism, and the only meaningful functions are eating and shitting.