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Watching RJ Barrett in his first game with the Toronto Raptors was bittersweet

Goodbye, old friend.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Toronto Raptors Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images

Man, what a strange last few days in Knicks Land it’s been.

Seemingly out of nowhere, the Knicks traded RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley for OG Anunoby on Saturday afternoon.

Just like that, RJ Barrett was on the move back to his home country. After 313 games and 11,207 minutes on the court in a Knicks uniform, the ride was over.

RJ has been a controversial figure in our world since we got the third pick in the 2019 NBA draft lottery. I remember that May 14th night, sitting in a dorm room at Binghamton University, watching with friends. All of us were optimistic that the Knicks would get the first overall pick and draft Zion Williamson. If not the first pick, there was a Murray State point guard named Ja Morant who was projected to go second and would’ve electrified the Garden crowd.

To all our disappointment, Mark Tatum pulled out the New York Knicks card when announcing the third pick. The dream of getting Zion or Morant was over, and we now had to pivot into who we could convince ourselves would be better than those two franchise changers.

A little over a month later, the Knicks would select Zion Williamson’s Duke teammate RJ Barrett with the third overall selection in the 2019 draft.

RJ Barrett had an up-and-down career in New York. He averaged 18.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 2.8 assists in 297 regular-season games. Though he hasn’t been as dynamic as the two players taken ahead of him in the 2019 draft, he’s put together a really nice career.

RJ also hasn’t come with the baggage and off-court controversy, and I commend him for that.

He never looked comfortable on the court with Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle, and a change was needed. OG Anunoby fits much better as a corner shooter and cutter to the basket.

RJ is a player I have written a lot about since I began writing for this website. I loved and still do love his potential going forward, and I wish they could’ve figured it out in New York. Earlier this season, I wrote about how RJ Barrett was turning a corner and playing more efficiently. Those numbers ended up dipping, but he’s had these great flashes of the player he can become with more consistency.

RJ’s first game as a Raptor:

When RJ Barrett heard his name called in the pregame introductions, he was met with a roaring ovation from the home crowd in Scotiabank Arena. The hometown kid was back, and it brought excitement to what has been a lackluster season for the Toronto Raptors.

Watching him in that Toronto Raptors jersey was weird. As fans, we spend time watching, following, writing, and thinking about our teams. We get attached to players and claim them as ours. I’m sure most of us felt some type of way watching number nine without New York across his chest.

Barrett had a decent first game with the Raptors. The former Knicks forward scored 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds in 29 minutes of action. He was 6/12 from the floor and 6/8 from the foul line. Notably, he only attempted two three-pointers, making one of them. RJ can be deadly when driving to the basket, and he scored ten points in the paint in Monday’s victory. The six-six forward is at his best when he is driving to the basket and running on fast breaks.

Barrett stepped to the line with seven seconds left in the game and calmly extended the Raptor's lead to three to ultimately win the game.

He’s very excited to be back home, and I’m happy for him.

As the title states, it was bittersweet to watch Monday night’s game. Barrett came to the Knicks as a 19-year-old kid and left as a 23-year-old adult.

There were plenty of good and bad moments over those four years, which we can get to on a different date. I’d like to let the situation marinate a bit before strolling down memory lane.

I’m also optimistic for the Knicks’s future, and Sunday’s win over the Timberwolves helped ease the pain of watching one of your favorite players go.

I will be watching and wish RJ Barrett nothing but the best in what will hopefully be a long and successful career playing for the Toronto Raptors.

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