The New York Knicks officially announced the contract extension of RJ Barrett minutes before news broke that Donovan Mitchell was being traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers. If you think that was a coincidence you’re also probably emailing a troubled Nigerian Prince.
The Knicks signed Barrett to an extension after efforts to include him in versions of a Mitchell trade — including setting an artificial deadline of Monday to get a deal done — didn’t work. Knicks fans were going to be unhappy, so New York offered this consolation prize (and genuinely positive news… but not as good of news as landing Mitchell).
Did the current Knicks front office even want to sign Barrett to an extension right now? Team president Leon Rose and his right-hand advisor William “World Wide” Wessley didn’t draft him, and two reports say the Knicks were not high on extending the 22-year-old wing right now.
From Marc Berman of the New York Post:
In fact, according to an NBA source, the Knicks’ would have preferred not to sign Barrett to a hefty contract extension at this moment. They wanted to at least wait until the mid-October deadline to see him at training camp — or even until July 1, when he would have hit restricted free agency…
“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 Donovan deal. … [I]f they got Donovan without Barrett in the deal, they weren’t going to pay RJ now.’’
David Aldridge at The Athletic added this:
I had heard pretty strongly earlier in the summer that the Knicks weren’t actually all that convinced Barrett was worth a big extension and their priority was holding onto Quentin Grimes – whom this front office, of course, took late in the first round last year. (And, of course, this front office did not draft Barrett.)
It may not have been their first choice, but extending Barrett at this price was still a solid move. First, the Knicks hadn’t signed a first-round draft pick to a multi-year extension since Charlie Ward in 1999 and Barrett is a quality player to keep around. Barrett can create his own shot and averaged 20 points a game last season — he has real potential. His jump shot needs to be more consistent and he needs to do a better job as a playmaker setting up teammates — put simply, his decision making has to improve — but he is a quality player. While approaching $30 million a season for the guy that should be the third best player on a contending team may seem high, as the salary cap rises in the coming years (the new TV deal should start in 2025), this number will not seem wildly out of line. Especially if Barrett keeps improving.
The Knicks need to get a superstar player eventually, but being patient and extending Barrett are not bad moves. Those are just not the dynamic, bold moves Knicks fans always want, and the reports like the Mitchell one end up feeling like Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown.