Report: Knicks finalizing four-year extension with RJ Barrett, taking him out of Mitchell talks

Brooklyn Nets v New York Knicks
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Leon Rose‘s Knicks have broken one of the franchise’s worst patterns: For the first time since Charlie Ward in the mid-90s, they are paying to keep their best young talent in house — signing a player on a rookie contract to a multi-year contract extension — and not trading him for an older veteran.

The Knicks are finalizing a deal to sign wing RJ Barrett to a four-year, up to $120 million extension, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. The big news from this extension is it takes Barrett off the table in any Donovan Mitchell trade talks.

After he signs this extension, Barrett can’t be traded until Jan. 15, and has veto power over any trade for a year. More importantly, the poison pill means Barrett’s outgoing salary would be $10.9 million, but for the incoming team it’s $26.2 million, a dramatic imbalance that would force a third team into the deal if there was one at the deadline. The Knicks can still trade picks — unprotected first-round picks have been the sticking point — and other players such as Obi Toppin or Quentin Grimes can be in the deal for Mitchell, but Barrett is off the board. How much the Jazz wanted Barrett depends on who you asked.

We don’t know the parameters of the extension yet, but that $120 million number probably includes unlikely incentives (Ian Begley reports there are All-Star, All-NBA and All-Defensive Team incentives). It will be interesting to see the actual guaranteed money number, but it is likely closer to what the Knicks just paid Jalen Brunson at $104 million over four years.

Barrett averaged 20 points a game last season at age 21, he’s able to create his own shot in isolation and can finish at the rim. His potential is unquestioned, but the Knicks want more playmaking and efficiency out of him — if Barrett’s jumper improves (34.2% from 3 last season, but not a great perimeter shooter off the bounce yet) and if he can set up teammates better he can be an elite offensive force. Defensively he can be a pest but still learning how to use his athletic skills.

The fact the Knicks kept a first-round pick (No. 3 overall) is a good sign for the organization. Rose continues to make smart moves, if not the bold ones Knicks fans want.

Although that could still be coming. The Mitchell trade isn’t dead, the deal just changed and Barrett is staying in NYC.

Watch Julius Randle score 57, Knicks still fall to Timberwolves

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NEW YORK (AP) — Julius Randle scored 57 points in one of the greatest nights in Knicks history. The Minnesota Timberwolves had the most sizzling start in the NBA this season.

Even in an era where the scoreboard totals seem to balloon higher all the time, this spectacular display of shooting and scoring felt different.

“It was a movie,” Minnesota’s Taurean Prince said.

The Timberwolves overcame Randle’s performance by riding a sizzling start and a steady finish to beat New York 140-134 on Monday night.

Prince scored a season-high 35 points and went 8 for 8 from 3-point range for the Timberwolves, while Mike Conley added 24 points and 11 assists. His three free throws gave Minnesota the lead for good with 2:17 remaining.

Randle’s final basket, a three-point play with 42 seconds remaining, cut it to 137-134, but he was beaten to a rebound by Kyle Anderson on Minnesota’s next possession, and a cutting Prince scored inside with 10.1 seconds left before Conley made a free throw after Randle was called for a technical foul.

That left Randle kicking himself for not making the defensive play on the night the offenses ruled.

“Jalen (Brunson) got a defensive stop, we’re down three, it’s my job to come up with that rebound, 14 seconds left,” Randle said. “If we do that, we have a chance to win the game – or not win the game, but at least tie the game. So I didn’t get the job done.”

The Timberwolves made more than 70% of their shots in the first half and led by 17, before Randle carried the Knicks back with a franchise-record 26 points in the third quarter.

He finished tied with Richie Guerin behind the only two 60-point games in Knicks history, Carmelo Anthony’s 62 on Jan. 24, 2014, and Bernard King’s 60 on Christmas Day in 1984. But the Knicks had their three-game winning streak snapped.

The All-Star forward threw down a powerful driving dunk in the first quarter but did most of his damage from much farther away. Randle made eight 3-pointers in surpassing his previous career high of 46 points.

The Wolves made their first 10 shots and didn’t cool off much the rest of the game, finishing at 61.4% and snapping a three-game skid despite playing without Anthony Edwards for a second straight game because of a sprained right ankle.

“We’ve got shooters, baby,” center Rudy Gobert said.

Gobert’s basket made the Wolves the first team this season to make its first 10 shots, and Knicks fans loudly cheered when Jaden McDaniels missed Minnesota’s next attempt, nearly seven minutes into the game. The Wolves led 42-32 after one, shooting 16 for 22 (72.7%).

Prince’s 3-pointer made it 70-53 with 4:35 left in the first half, but the Knicks finally put together some stops to cut it to 79-70 at the break.

Then Randle came back and went 9 for 10 in the third, hitting 5 for 6 beyond the arc. He raised his hand to fault himself after the one miss, an ill-advised attempt that missed the rim by a couple feet. But he could hardly be blamed for trying the way almost everything else he threw up was going in.

Finch said Edwards hadn’t done anything besides get treatment thus far, but the Wolves didn’t rule him out until Monday, indicating his injury isn’t as bad as originally feared.

“For sure there’s some relief,” Finch said. “But you know Ant, like Ant always wants to play. He never thinks he’s hurt, so hopefully it is feeling better, which he says it is. But in terms of pain tolerance, range of movement, stability, all those things, I think we’re trying to figure out where that really is with him.”

Report: Lakers, Austin Reaves have mutual interest in new contract

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Austin Reaves is the latest in the impressive Lakers finds of role players. Undrafted out of Oklahoma, Reaves got a two-way contract from the Lakers, which was eventually turned into a regular minimum deal — he is making $1.6 million this season.

He had far outplayed that deal, averaging 12 points a game, becoming a key part of the Lakers’ rotation, and he dropped a career-high 35 on Sunday night. Reaves is up for a massive pay raise this summer, the Lakers want to give it to him and there is mutual interest, reports Jovan Buha at The Athletic.

He will be a restricted free agent this summer, and will undoubtedly have multiple suitors looking to pry him from the Lakers — especially after stat lines like Sunday’s. Both the Lakers and Reaves’ camp have interest in Reaves re-signing in Los Angeles, according to multiple league sources who were granted anonymity so that they coud speak freely. The max the Lakers can offer Reaves is a four-year, $50.8 million contract if they chose to use his Early Bird Rights, but they also have the power to match any contract he signs with another team.

While the Lakers can match any offer, it’s a little more complex than that because Reaves is an Arenas Rule free agent (named after The Hibachi himself). I’ll let our friend Keith Smith of Sportrac explain it.

When a player is an Arenas free agent, opposing teams can still offer whatever salary they are able to give, but the incumbent team is given an avenue to match the offer. What happens in these offers is that the first-year salary for an Arenas free agent is limited to either the Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception (NTMLE) or what a team can match using their Early Bird exception…. That results in what is often referred to as a “poison pill” structure for a contract.

In the case of Reaves, let’s say a team looking for a well-rounded guard — the Orlando Magic — offer something like four years, $60 million. On the Orlando books, that would look like $15 million a season. However, under the Arenas provision, on the Lakers’ books the first year of that deal can only be for the $11.4 million the Lakers can offer right now, and Reaves would make less than $12 million in the second year (still far more than he makes this season). However, in the final two years of this hypothetical offer Reaves would make $17.9 million and $18.8 million on the Lakers’ books, a considerable jump. (If this were an $80 million offer from the Magic, the first two years would be the same but the last two would hit the Lakers’ books hard for more than $27 million a season, hence the poison pill name.)

The Lakers might well match that offer anyway, they still feel the sting of losing another of their young finds, Alex Caruso, and don’t want to let Reaves leave and then thrive somewhere else. Reaves isn’t looking to leave, he has said he loves Los Angeles and playing for the Lakers. However, this is a business and Reaves is not in a position to leave money on the table.

While everyone’s intentions are good, the Lakers have a lot of free-agent decisions to make this summer: D'Angelo Russell, Rui Hachimura, Lonnie Walker IV, Dennis Schroder, Troy Brown Jr. and more (plus Jarred Vanderbilt is extension eligible). There are going to be roster changes, and the Lakers can’t spend like the Warriors or Clippers who don’t appear to care about the tax — the Lakers are a family business and there is a budget.

Two things are for sure: It will be a wild offseason in Los Angeles, and Austin Reaves will get paid. By whom is the question.

Lillard sounds like a guy considering shutting it down for season

Boston Celtics v Portland Trail Blazers
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The Portland Trail Blazers have lost six in a row, are 31-40 and sit 3.5 games out of the 10 seed and final play-in spot in the West (a few teams sit between them and that goal, too). It’s not impossible, but with just 11 games remaining there’s a reason fivethirtyeight.com gives them just a 0.4% chance of making the playoffs. It’s hard to be optimistic.

Even for the perpetually optimistic Damian Lillard.

Check out his quotes postgame, with the first being via Sean Highkin of the Rose Garden Report (Blazers fans should subscribe).

“I think everybody in here is not crazy,” Lillard said… “You look at what other teams are doing, they’re creating separation, and we’re on a losing streak. We’ve pretty much fallen out of the race for the 10th spot unless we win every game, if you really look at it truthfully.”

Lillard has played at an All-NBA level this season, averaging 32.2 points and 7.2 assists a game, shooting 37.3% from 3, an insane-for-a-guard 64.5 true shooting percentage, all while having the fifth highest usage rate in the league. Put simply, he has carried the Blazers.

Maybe it’s getting close to time to take that burden off his shoulders.

If/when Lillard decides to sit out the rest of the season, it will start another round of “should Lillard leave” speculation in the media and around the league (other teams are certainly watching). Just don’t bet on it happening. As Lillard said recently about staying to win in Portland, “I’m also willing to die on that hill.” Lillard has four years, $216.2 million remaining on his contract after this season, the deal he signed just last summer. However, more than the money, Lillard sees himself in the Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas or Giannis Antetokounmpo in Milwaukee mold — he wants to stay and win in his city.

Rather than selling, look for the Trail Blazers to try and be buyers around the Draft or into the summer, offering good young players such as Shaedon Sharpe and Anfernee Simons, plus plenty of draft picks. Portland wants to win around Lillard and is willing to be aggressive.

But that’s next season, this season has reached the point it may be time to pack it in for Lillard.

Morant reportedly could return to Grizzlies Wednesday vs. Rockets

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Despite his eight-game suspension being up, Ja Morant will not be on the court Monday night when the Grizzlies host the Mavericks (Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving are questionable for the Mavericks as of this writing, although Dončić has been hopeful he could play).

In good news for Grizzlies fans, Morant could return as soon as Wednesday against the Rockets, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Rockets and their porous defense are an excellent soft landing spot for Morant to return, put up some numbers, but not have to play heavy minutes. The Grizzlies play the Rockets both Wednesday and Friday and need wins as they are in a fight for the two seed with the red-hot Sacramento Kings.

Morant was suspended for flashing a gun in a club and broadcasting it on social media, something NBA Commissioner Adam Silver called “irresponsible” and “reckless.”The suspension was retroactive, including games he was “away from the team” following the incident. The suspension cost Morant $668,659 in pay, but it hit his bank account harder than that after one of his major sponsors — Powerade — pulled an ad campaign featuring him that would have run heavily during March Madness. Morant is also in the mix for an All-NBA spot — which, via the Rose rule could increase his contract extension that kicks in next season — and this incident and missed games will not help his cause.

Hopefully, Morant got a chance to step back and consider his path forward during the suspension. If the Grizzlies are going to make the postseason run this season — and be a contender for years to come — as they expect, they need peak Morant on the court.