Knicks would have preferred to wait for RJ Barrett’s extension, possibly until restricted free agency
After a month of looking like favorite to land Donovan Mitchell, the New York Knicks were outbid by the Cleveland Cavaliers, who sent three unprotected first-round picks, the right to two trade picks, Collin Sexton (sign and trade) , Lauri Markkanen and 2022 No. 14 overall Ochai Agbaji to the Utah Jazz in exchange for Mitchell.
Three days earlier, the Knicks signed RJ Barrett, whom they offered to Utah as part of their Mitchell package, to a four-year, $120 million extension, as announced in this glowing statement.
“We are thrilled to announce a well-deserved extension for RJ Barrett, a central part of our team’s foundation,” Knicks President Leon Rose said. “At just 22, he has elevated his game every season, solidifying himself as a force on both sides of the pitch. We believe he will continue to improve due to his passion for the game and his dedication to his craft. We want to continue to build our team and our culture around players like RJ who possess those values and qualities.”
The New York Post’s Steve Berman paints a different picture, one that doesn’t reflect a team “thrilled” to make a long-term commitment to Barrett, but a team almost forced to do so. From Berman:
“According to an NBA source, the Knicks would have preferred not to sign Barrett to a hefty contract extension right now. They wanted to at least wait until the mid-October deadline to see him in training camp — or even until July 1, when he would have achieved restricted free will.
“They didn’t want to pay RJ now, they like RJ, but he’s not one of their guys,” the NBA source said. “The preference was to trade him in a deal with Donovan. … If they got Donovan without Barrett in the deal, they weren’t going to pay RJ now.”
The source said once the Knicks got wind that the Cavaliers were in the lead for Mitchell, they took a step toward a deal with Barrett.
“They had to do something,” the source said.
Let’s be clear on one thing here: this is an “NBA” source. It could be anyone. A low-level scout for the Pacers, as far as we know. He is not listed as a source close to the team, or Rose, or anyone else who apparently has a direct line to New York decision makers.
That said, we also don’t know if this source doesn’t know what they’re talking about. It’s a report. Do what you want with it. What we do know, or at least what was reported more concretely, is that the Knicks were indeed willing to trade Barrett to get Mitchell.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Barrett was part of New York’s offer in July for Mitchell. There were reports that New York no longer wanted to add Quentin Grimes or more unprotected picks to its offer for Mitchell, but Barrett was almost surely going to be a central part of any outgoing package.
Also, the extension that New York gave Barrett is not a maximum. It’s a ton of money, no doubt, but if you don’t extend your #3 overall pick to a max deal, let alone actively try to trade it, you’re not this delighted with what you saw from the guy. For Barrett, $120 million seems fair. He could be an All-Star. But it is not yet.
It’s a believable and frankly logical position that New York wanted to wait and see how Barrett’s season unfolds before making a long-term commitment. The flip side, of course, is that they could have had him on the cheap if he became an All-Star this season. As a restricted free agent next summer, Barrett could have forced New York to pay more than $120 million over four to keep him with just one other team providing a higher offer.
Cutting out all the details, it feels a bit like a consolation prize for New York. Hey we didn’t get Mitchell, at least lock up our own guy so it looks like we did something on our own terms. For me, whether New York wanted it or not, keeping Barrett and the future flexibility of eight trade-eligible draft picks is a better outcome than trading the farm for Mitchell.