RJ Barrett is now a very rich man. The Knicks forward signed a contract extension earlier this week worth at least $107 million. He should be on top of the world right now. However, as the old saying goes, money can’t necessarily buy happiness. And I’m starting to wonder just how happy RJ is with the events of this week.
As we noted, the news of RJ’s extension came with a depressing caveat, as Adrian Wojnarowski and others reported that the Knicks had offered RJ to Utah in a trade for Donovan Mitchell. At the time, I had hoped the front office was using the threat of an exile to Utah to make RJ sign the extension for less money. Sleazy? Yes, but certainly the front office didn’t actually want to trade the kid, even for an All-Star like Mitchell. However, the RJ-to-the-Jazz rumors kept coming.
Allegedly, the Knicks’ final offer was RJ, Immanuel Quickley, plus three first-round picks (one of them top-5 protected). Our own Matt Miranda mused that the Knicks were indeed fortunate that Jazz president Danny Ainge never accepted the offer, choosing instead to send Mitchell to Cleveland. Still, the ease with which the front office kept tossing RJ into deals left a sour taste in the mouths of many fans.
Marc Berman dropped another firebomb on the situation Friday night, citing sources within the organization which claimed the Knicks were less than thrilled with RJ’s extension.
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.
Barrett was drafted before Rose’s and senior executive William Wesley’s time with the team. Knicks general manager Scott Perry made the Barrett pick in 2019, and even then it wasn’t unanimous.
“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.’’
RJ Barrett is a polarizing player in NBA circles. We all know his efficiency problems and lack of elite athleticism. But he also averaged 20 points last season in an abysmally-spaced Knicks offense. He shot 40% from three the season before, all while ranking among the league leaders in minutes played for the East’s No. 4 seed. He can contribute to winning basketball. He already has. And when the Knicks’ 2021-22 season went into the tank, RJ was the one elevating his game while Julius Randle was pouting at fans and teammates.
RJ isn’t worth the max yet, and he didn’t get the max. Knicks fans usually can’t agree on anything, but we were nearly universal in praise of the Barrett extension. It should have been a moment of celebration. Instead, both the fans and RJ are left scratching their heads about the media leaks. Where are they coming from? Is it head coach Tom Thibodeau, a notorious Berman source? If so, I say shit-can him immediately. If it’s a prominent front office member, things get a bit more complicated.
Either way, all this noise should only serve to strengthen the bond between RJ and Knicks fans. If RJ can improve heading into the 2022-23 season — if he can lead the Knicks to a semblance of respectability — the “R-J-BAR-RETT!” chants at the Garden will be deafening. RJ might not be the player the front office wanted, but he is definitely one of us.