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RJ Barrett extension: Knicks finalize deal worth up to $120 million, complicating search for Donovan Mitchell

The New York Knicks and rising star forward RJ Barrett are in the process of finalizing a four-year contract extension worth up to $120 million, Barrett’s agent Billy Duffy. told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski on Monday night. When signed, the deal will not only complicate the Knicks’ search for Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell, but also end one of the NBA’s most embarrassing streaks with Barrett becoming New York’s No. 1 draft pick. to sign a multi-year contract extension from Charlie Ward in 1999

Barrett, the No. 3 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft is now positioned to be a cornerstone of the franchise for the foreseeable future.

It will have to be, as the Knicks’ search for Mitchell is now at a crossroads. New York has been trying to trade for the All-Star guard, and while Barrett was not initially a part of those discussions, his name was reportedly mentioned in the most recent trade talks between the two sides.

The Knicks reportedly set a Monday night deadline to complete a trade with an eye toward signing Barrett to their deal. While New York and Utah can still make a trade without Barrett, the two sides will need to go back to the drawing board if they hope to close a deal before opening night. With that in mind, here are three key takeaways about Barrett’s new deal:

the poison pill

While Barrett’s extension doesn’t technically prevent him from being traded this season, it does present a quirk about how his salary would be counted in such a trade. At the New York end, things don’t change at all. He would still count toward his 2022-23 salary of $10.9 million for salary-matching purposes in the trade.

However, as a starting salary for Utah, his cap figure would be much higher. Between now and when Barrett’s extension takes effect during the 2023 offseason, his entering salary for the Jazz or any other team that acquires him would be the average of the five seasons he is now signed for. That is approximately $26.2 million.

This is more of an annoyance than a real hindrance, especially since the Jazz wouldn’t be obligated to pay Barrett that much money up front. It is simply the figure that would count against the cap as part of the trade. Where things get tricky is fitting the deal within the commercial parameters allowed by the league. For a deal of this size, neither party can send more than 125 percent of the salary they absorb.

Mitchell makes over $30 million, so thankfully that gives the Jazz some leeway here, but it makes it harder for them to absorb contracts from the New York side. Since Barrett still only has $10.9 million in outgoing salary from the Knicks, the Knicks would need to ship at least one more sizable contract to get into that 125 percent range. Evan Fournier is the name most frequently mentioned in the reports.

Again, this is a solvable problem if both sides are committed enough to a deal, but the mere act of giving Barrett this extension suggests the Knicks plan to keep him. If a deal is to be struck here, it’s more likely to focus on draft picks and other young players on New York’s roster.

the streak

For all the trouble the Knicks have had this century, they’ve actually drafted pretty well. Kristaps Porzingis and David Lee made All-Star teams during their rookie contracts in New York. Players like Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Iman Shumpert and Channing Frye had successful careers. New York’s problem hasn’t been identifying young talent. He has been saving it.

Charlie Ward was the last Knicks draft pick before Barrett to sign a multi-year rookie extension. Porzingis, Gallinari, Chandler, Shumpert and Frye were traded. Lee left as a free agent after the Knicks signed Amar’e Stoudemire. Many Knicks busts just didn’t warrant new contracts.

Ironically, the Knicks gave one of their own first-round picks a huge second contract … but only after he left. The Knicks used a first-round pick on Tim Hardaway Jr. in 2013, traded him in 2015, then paid him $72 million to return as a restricted free agent in 2017. That, along with the free-agent deal Mitchell Robinson signed this off-season, it was the closest the streak came to being snapped before Barrett.

In many ways, he was the ultimate symbol of the Knicks’ futility. He managed to encompass both the team’s poor writing and its poor management on the few occasions that he did write well. But with Barrett signed, the Knicks can move beyond that embarrassing chapter in team history. For once, they found a young player they really wanted to keep.

the young star

The Knicks have done little to position Barrett for success thus far in his career. He has been largely surrounded by poor shooters. He shares a frontcourt with Julius Randle, who tends to monopolize the ball in halfcourt setups. He plays for a coach in Tom Thibodeau, who has a reputation for taking down his starters.

However, Barrett has slowly matured into a standout young player. The main question about his game entering the NBA was his 3-point shooting. He managed to sink more than 40 percent of his attempts in just his second NBA season. His defense has grown steadily throughout his three seasons, and he spent most of last season guarding New York’s toughest opponents.

As Randle reeled under the weight of a new contract and pressure from New York, Barrett emerged as the most valuable player last season. After a slow start, he managed to average 23.6 points, six rebounds and 3.5 assists per game from New Year’s Day onward. The Knicks haven’t given him a team worthy of his growth yet, but with Brunson on board and the possible arrival of Mitchell, that could easily change.

This is a small forward league, and New York just secured its best league for four more seasons. The final two years of that deal will come after the league is expected to have signed a more lucrative new television deal that should raise the salary cap significantly. The Knicks would benefit greatly from a potential raise. Their best players are now signed up long-term, and with Barrett signed up, the Knicks can turn their attention to Mitchell without Barrett’s status hanging over their heads all season.


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