Of all of the Knicks' summer plans to bring stars to Madison Square Garden, the only sure thing — and maybe the only one that has a chance — is Thursday night’s NBA Draft when they will have the third pick in what most around the league believe is a three-star draft.
Free agents can spurn them — and have done so in the past. Trades can evaporate. But with the No. 3 pick the Knicks can find a star, and with RJ Barrett the target this time they have a potential star who actually wants to be here.
Barrett considers New York a second home and is anxious to change that to first.
“It would mean a lot,” Barrett said Wednesday, speaking at the NBA’s predraft availability at the Grand Hyatt. “My late grandfather, rest In peace, he was the biggest Knicks fan. He always told me I’d play for the Knicks. So it would mean a lot for me to play for the team.”
The Knicks have been content to stick in the third slot. The Grizzlies, with the No. 2 pick, are expected to take Murray State point guard Ja Morant, especially after reportedly trading starting point guard Mike Conley to the Jazz on Wednesday for Grayson Allen, Kyle Korver, Jae Crowder and draft picks. The Knicks held a last-minute workout with Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland Wednesday, causing Garland to miss the media session. Garland, who played just five games this past season before a torn meniscus sidelined him, arrived late and told reporters that he believed he was in the mix for the third pick.
But Barrett remains the safe pick for a franchise that can hardly avoid a mistake. More than just a childhood dream as the son of Rowan Barrett, who played for St. John’s before embarking on a long professional career overseas, and Kesha, who was a nationally ranked sprinter at St. John’s, Barrett is longing for the spotlight of New York. Barrett opted not to work out for any other team and other than a brief conversation with representatives of the Grizzlies at the Draft Combine in Chicago, did not even meet with another team.
It is a wish for plenty of players who point to the Garden in free agency and imagine branding opportunities. And plenty have wilted under the pressures of the city. But Barrett, who was a star in his one season at Duke — albeit a secondary one behind the massive gravitational pull of Zion Williamson — insists he is equipped for the challenge.
“Yeah. First of all, I feel like that would be a challenge that I’m willing to accept,” Barrett said. “I just want to be in the NBA. I want it to be the Knicks, but I don’t really care what team.
“My agent and I and my parents, we just decided not to [visit other teams]. Not really anything wrong with Memphis. New York is just more where I wanted to be … I can’t say much more than just you see how I am and what I’ve done so far in my career. I feel like I accept the challenge. And I’m really going to give it everything I’ve got.”
Barrett said he played against Kevin Knox growing up and knows Allonzo Trier well from his time on a recruiting trip to the University of Arizona. He said he has improved drastically even from a player who was the top-ranked prospect heading into his freshman year before Williamson eclipsed him. He credited the learning curve of his one season at Duke and training he has done since the season ended.
He said he hasn’t followed the speculation about the draft and about the troubles the Knicks have endured to this point. Asked about the long struggles for the franchise and that the last player selected in the top four by the Knicks, Kristaps Porzingis, wanted out of New York by his fourth season, he wasn’t concerned.
“No, what I always say is to each his own,” Barrett said. “Everybody has a different trajectory or path in life. I feel like wherever I go that’s going to be the place for me.”
“R.J. will flourish here in New York,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said Tuesday on his SiriusXM show. “He wants to be here. He is so mature. He just turned 19 last Friday, but he's been a part of the Canadian basketball program since [he was] a little guy, always played up. And what says a lot about him is his relationship with Zion. You know, the two of them could [have been] very jealous of one another, envious. [Instead] they became brothers. Literally. They love one another. And this kid is a multi-dimensional player. He would start right away. He has the potential to be a double-double guy. He's a great defensive rebounder, and if he gets the defensive rebound he can push, and he can play 'one' through 'four.' Because he can pass too. As he grows, there'll be times in this kid's career where the triple-double will happen more than once. He's a star. There's no question. Beautiful, beautiful kid.”
And Barrett has goals for himself. Lots of them.
“I have every goal you could possibly dream of,” he said. “Rookie of the year, NBA champion, MVP. I want a Larry O’B trophy. I want to be a Hall of Famer. Everything you could dream of.”