Knicks’ RJ Barrett has fans in Clippers organization, could be part of Paul George deal

RJ Barrett Knicks
RJ Barrett (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

With the NBA Draft behind us, basketball offseason rumors have turned to free agent signings and potential trades. For the New York Knicks, that means plenty of discussion about whether or not Paul George could be coming to town. 

Ian Begley of SNY added a new wrinkle to the discussion over the weekend when he mentioned that he knows, “There are some fans of RJ Barrett” in the Clippers organization. 

Begley went on to say that he doesn’t feel a deal is incredibly likely since the Clippers are looking to win now with Tyronn Lue in the last year of his contract and owner Steve Ballmer having spent a lot of money to chase a title. Begley asserts that the Clippers would need to believe the Knicks could send them players that would help Los Angeles win a title this year. 

But that’s not entirely true. The Knicks would need to send assets that could help the Clippers win now, but they don’t need to send it in the form of players. 

The Knicks could deal Julius Randle as part of a package for Paul George, and there’s an argument to be made that Randle and Kawhi Leonard would be a solid pairing to help the Clippers win, but it seems unlikely Randle is part of any deal. 

If the Knicks sent RJ Barret and Obi Toppin, along with Evan Fournier, for salary purposes, that gives the Clippers pieces that can contribute for this season, but New York could also send along first-round picks which the Clippers could then use to acquire more talent for a win-now roster. 

Could Barrett, Toppin, Fournier, and two first-round picks get a deal done for Paul George? Could the Knicks make that deal without including Toppin? It’s entirely possible given Paul George’s injury history in recent years and the fact that he only has one year and a player option left on his deal. 

While that may seem like a lot for the Knicks to give up, it could make sense if the team is strategic about what picks it deals. 

For starters, one of RJ Barrett or Julius Randle needs to be traded if the Knicks are bringing on Paul George. In part because of salary and also because the three of them are a terrible fit together. 

If Randle and Barrett were not part of the Knicks’ trade package for George, that would mean either George or Barrett would need to slide to shooting guard. Considering Barrett graded out as a poor defender at the small forward position, moving him to shooting guard against smaller, quicker players might not be the best decision.

It would also take a good shooter and defender out of the starting lineup by bumping Quentin Grimes to the bench. That would mean that acquiring George doesn’t actually give the starting lineup more floor spacing or defensive value, which are two things the Knicks are clearly striving for. 

From a fit sense, putting Barrett in the deal makes sense. 

RJ Barrett Knicks
New York Knicks guard RJ Barrett (9) is fouled by Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler during the first half of Game 4 of the NBA basketball Eastern Conference playoff semifinal, Monday, May 8, 2023, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

We also know the Knicks can afford to give up Fournier because he wasn’t in the rotation at all for the Knicks for the second half of the season. Similarly, while Obi Toppin has upside that Knicks fans love, the organization clearly doesn’t feel the same. They’ve tried to change him into a completely different player, using him as a three-point shooter, and have also never really played him more than 15 minutes a game. His value in New York could be lower than his actual value. 

Giving up those three players for somebody of George’s caliber doesn’t feel like a big loss. 

Last season, George averaged 23.8 points, 6.1 rebounds, 5.1 assists, and 1.5 steals per game while shooting 45.7% from the field and 37.1% from beyond the arc. In fact, in his four seasons with the Clippers, he has shot 39% from deep, which would be a major boon for the Knicks, as would his defensive acumen. 

He was the 13th-ranked small forward by Wins Above Replacement (WAR) and was tied for the 10th-ranked small forward based on defensive RAPTOR. Meanwhile, Barrett was 92nd in WAR at -0.7 and was 93rd in defensive RAPTOR out of 100 qualified small forwards. 

While Barrett took clear steps forward on the offensive end during the playoffs, his shooting remains inconsistent and he has never graded out as even an average NBA defender in four years. While he got to the basket more in the postseason, and his court vision and passing were clearly improved, if he doesn’t become a reliable shooter and defender, he will always cause some lineup limitations for the Knicks. 

The Knicks can also afford to part with some draft picks given that they have four first-round picks in just next year’s draft.

Yet, here is where New York can be strategic since a few of those picks are not likely to convey in the coming years.

The Washington pick would be the best one to trade away. 

It is top 12 protected in 2024 and with the Wizards getting rid of all their talented NBA players, there is a strong chance they’re one of the worst teams in the league. The pick would then be top 10 in 2025, which is still not a lock to convey, and then top-eight protected in 2026. If the Wizards have a top-eight pick in 2026 then they would keep their first-round pick and the Knicks would get a 2026 second-round pick and a 2027 second-round pick instead.

There is a decent chance that happens or the Knicks finally see the pick in 2026. 

There’s a similar situation with the Detroit pick. It is top 18 protected in 2023-24, which almost assuredly means it won’t go to the Knicks since the Pistons are a rebuilding team. The pick is then top 13 protected in 2025, top 11 protected in 2026, and top nine protected in 2027.

If the Knicks were to deal two picks that realistically are 2026 first-round picks, that feels like a move this team can overcome with all the picks they still have coming in recent years. 

Obviously, this is a developing story and there is nothing certain on the horizon, but there are pieces here to make this work if the Knicks wanted to go all-in for Paul George. 

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Could Paul George be a Knicks trade target?
Paul George dribbles the ball up the court for the Clippers in 2022 (wikimedia commons)