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RJ Barrett’s contract question looms large for the Knicks

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RJ Barrett (left) is eligible for a contract extension this offseason.
RJ Barrett (left) is eligible for a contract extension this offseason.
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Knicks forward RJ Barrett is eligible for a contract extension, but he’s yet to sign on the dotted line — raising questions about the 22-year-old’s worth as he seeks a max deal this offseason. 

Barrett is under contract for one more year, before he’ll enter restricted free agency in the 2023 offseason, and the two sides have until October to agree to terms on an extension. 

Many NBA insiders expected the front office to agree with Barrett on a new deal in the past weeks, but nothing has materialized thus far — despite his contemporaries in the 2019 NBA Draft agreeing to terms with their teams, such as Zion Williamson of the Pelicans and Ja Morant of the Grizzlies. 

The big question surrounding Barrett is whether he is worthy of signing a max contract, which would be for 5 years for around $185 million. 

That would be a significant hit against New York’s cap space, but Barrett’s agents reportedly are looking for nothing short of that number. 

For more coverage of RJ Barrett and the Knicks, head to amNY.com.

The Knicks could simply wait until after the season to deal with the issue, as they can match any offer he gets on the open market and guarantee that they would be able to retain him — such as the Suns did with 2018’s 1st overall pick Deandre Ayton, who agreed to a max extension with the Pacers, before Phoenix matched the offer to bring him back to the desert. 

While that remains a possibility, and limits the risk that Barrett would walk away from Madison Square Garden and leave the Knicks with nothing, it does come with the added danger of angering their best young asset, as offering a contract before a player’s current deal expires is seen as a good-faith move to keep them happy. 

The lack of an extension comes as the front office has declined to make him publicly available for a trade, including their ongoing talks to acquire Utah Jazz shooting guard Donovan Mitchell. So the Knicks appear to be committed to keeping Barrett, who has become a fan favorite in Midtown Manhattan. 

But, Leon Rose and New York’s front office has not made a max offer to Barrett yet. 

Last season, the Canadian-born player averaged 20 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3 assists — and he’s steadily improved each of his 3 seasons in the NBA. He scored over 30 points in 11 games last year. 

One possibility for their hesitancy is a desire to see him prove his worth as a max player next year. 

For all his hype, there are several aspects of his game that Barrett will need to improve upon to become an elite player in the NBA. 

According to John Hollinger’s breakdown of NBA player statistics, Barrett is just the 195th more efficient player in the league, and he has struggled to finish at the rim against bigger defenders in the paint. 

His 71.4% on free throws is also troubling for a player supposedly buoyed by his shooting, and his 40.8% from the field last year left much to be desired — and was a notable decline from the 44.1% he shot in his sophomore season. 

If the Knicks are going to commit to Barrett for the long-term, and carve out significant cap space for him over 5 years, they’ll need him to put all the aspects of his game together in a far-more efficient package — or risk falling into several more years of mediocrity. 

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