Late in the night on Feb. 7, after the Jazz had rolled over the Knicks in Salt Lake City, Knicks assistant Johnnie Bryant and Donovan Mitchell huddled briefly in a hallway.
Bryant cut the meeting shorts. “Got to see my former boss,” Bryant said, referring to Jazz head coach Quin Snyder. Off went Bryant. They will see each other again Sunday night at the Garden when Mitchell makes his lone visit of the season with the Jazz.
Of the assistant coaches senior William Wesley added to the Knicks’ staff, Bryant is the only one adviser standing. Mike Woodson left for his alma mater, Indiana, during last season. Payne officially left Friday for his alma mater, Louisville, where Mitchell played.
According to a source, Bryant is a key figure in the Knicks’ long-term hopes of Mitchell tiring of playing in one of the NBA’s most obscure markets in Salt Lake City.
The Knicks don’t have cap space this summer and landing a star in a trade — using president Leon Rose’s relationships — still is part of their far-flung master plan. Rose was formerly Mitchell’s agent at CAA.
Much to his dismay, Mitchell got passed up by the Knicks in the 2017 draft in favor of Frank Ntilikina. There were some scouts pushing for the Westchester star whose father, Donovan Sr., works for the Mets in alumni relations.
Mitchell spends most of his offseasons in the New York area. Last August, Mitchell was in Jamaica, Queens with Naomi Osaka, who resurfaced her hometown courts and staged a ceremony. Mitchell and Osaka are each client of BodyArmor.
Mitchell came to lend Osaka support, discussed Osaka’s journey, but declined to talk about the Knicks or their new addition, Kemba Walker. Mitchell indicated it was, literally, too close to home.
Even if Mitchell looks to leave Utah — and one journalist tweeted Mitchell is a first-round exit away from contemplating it — do the Knicks have the assets to get a deal done with the Jazz, who are now overseen by former Celtics guru Danny Ainge?
The 25-year-old explosive combo guard, averaging 25.7 points and 5.5 assists this season entering Sunday, has three seasons and $98 million left on his contract.
Despite this gloomy season, the Knicks still feel they have player flexibility in trading for stars in a blockbuster package. RJ Barrett and first-round picks may have to be part of it.
The Knicks have five first-round picks over the next four years. Barrett could be looking for a maximum rookie contract extension this fall — a deal that arguably is a risk because some of his analytics show inefficiency.
The Knicks also can add to any package this summer with movable expiring contracts in Walker, Alec Burks, Cam Reddish and Nerlens Noel.
They’d much prefer to hold out hope Derrick Rose makes a comeback next season rather than trade his expiring deal. If the Knicks are invested in Julius Randle, 2020 lottery pick Obi Toppin also is expendable.
Indeed, the Knicks could have the right pawns. As injured-plagued as Noel’s season has been, his contract isn’t guaranteed for 2023-24.
Because of impossible-to-reach incentives, Noel’s contract has only $18 million of guaranteed money. The incentive bonuses for Noel, The Post has learned, are reaching the NBA Finals and winning Defensive Player of the Year.
The Knicks can probably put forth a competitive deal especially if Mitchell warns other teams he wants New York. At this point, it’s really all on Mitchell.