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SportsColumnistsSteve Popper

Will it be RJ Barrett or Ja Morant available at No. 3 for Knicks?

 There is a question as to which one the Grizzlies will take with the No. 2 pick in the NBA Draft.

Duke's RJ Barrett goes up to dunk against

Duke's RJ Barrett goes up to dunk against Syracuse during the second half of a game in the ACC tournament in Charlotte, N.C., on March 14. Photo Credit: AP/Chuck Burton

The NBA Draft is still weeks away and other than an interview lasting less than an hour in a Chicago hotel suite, there have been no workouts or measurements of the three players that almost every scout has penciled in as the top three picks this summer.

Duke’s Zion Williamson is a fait accompli as the top pick to New Orleans and almost everyone figures Ja Morant, the athletic point guard from Murray State, to go No. 2 to Memphis, which would leave Williamson’s Duke teammate, RJ Barrett, for the Knicks at the third spot.

It took less than a day for speculation to begin that the Grizzlies had locked in on Morant — even though they had not done anything other than sit in a room with him in the hotel. Not a drill. Not a test. Not a measurement.

So could minds change as the draft approaches? Sure. And plenty of voices have come out in support of Barrett this week. On Madison Square Garden Network, a procession of guests have been giving glowing reports of Barrett and how he could be a star in New York, some even speculating that he could be the best player in this draft, which is not a completely off-the-charts story. 

“You see how he handled himself this year,’’ said Kevin Boyle, Barrett’s high school coach at Montverde Academy in his session with MSG 150. “You have an incredible player in Zion Williamson and obviously they’re both great players. You can make a great argument for both to be No. 1 in the draft. Zion deserved all the attention he got. But RJ probably deserved more attention than he received and he was never jealous. He was happy for his friend, happy for the team. And I think that’s a rare quality in today’s kids.”

So is that really the order of picks? Who knows? Morant did stick around for the NBA Draft Combine, doing media sessions, but he didn’t do any of the testing. He didn’t even do height and weight measurements, no small feat for a player who is listed at 6-3 and 175 pounds — and some executives were guessing the height, like that of most players, was an exaggeration. 

The fact is that whether he is 6-1 or 6-3 Morant has performed on the court, excelling not just in his own conference but also in the NCAA Tournament. He put up a triple double with 17 points, 16 assists and 11 rebounds against Marquette and then scored 28 in the season-ending loss to Florida State. He did it early in the season, too, scoring 38 points at Alabama and 25 at Auburn.

But it’s still worth wondering, does the hype about who is No. 2 change when the Grizzlies bring Barrett and Morant into the gym? It’s worth noting, too, that it was Barrett — not Williamson — who was the top-rated prospect coming into the college basketball season. The son of Rowan Barrett, who played four seasons at St. John’s in the 1990s, he reclassified, graduating high school early, to get to Duke last year and won’t turn 19 years old until six days before the draft.

Morant was a sophomore at Murray State, having started every game as a freshman, but hardly put up numbers anywhere close to this season, when he nearly doubled his scoring average. Look at his performance against Auburn in his freshman year for comparison, He shot 2-for-10 and totaled only nine points.

What Morant showed this season was impressive. Was it enough to make it to draft night ahead of Barrett?

For their part, the Knicks aren’t saying.

“We’re excited about where we are,” Knicks president Steve Mills said last week. “We know we’ll get a good player at three. So it’s something we’re excited about and look forward to.”

Clarifying the record

Keith Glass, a longtime NBA agent, has a new book arriving shortly in which Glass recounts some of his childhood growing up in Long Island with a friend and mentor who became almost like a brother — Larry Brown. But like some traditional families, Glass and Brown had a falling out that Glass wanted to get out in print.

The episode, detailed in “7 Foot Man-Eating Chicken,” which is available for pre-order on amazon.com, centers around the work that Glass’ late father, Joe Glass, did in negotiating contracts for Brown — a busy task for any agent. Through the connection, the family began negotiations for Mike Woodson when Woodson was offered the full-time job as Knicks coach in 2012 after taking over as interim coach late in the previous season. 

Keith and his son, Tyler, who has joined the agency, spoke with Knicks general manager Glen Grunwald on May 1, 2012 and left Madison Square Garden with what they thought was a deal. Glass wrote, “Glen and I left the Garden with a general understanding that we were going to insist on getting Woodson in the neighborhood of $18,000,000 over a four-year period. I informed Glen, however, that my dad was still running the show as far as Woodson was concerned, so I was going to run things by him the next day. I didn’t get the chance.”

He wrote that 14 hours later he got a call from Woodson saying that the Knicks would not negotiate with the Glass family because of the contentious dealings when Joe Glass won an arbitration fight to get Brown $18,500,000 of his contract paid after he parted ways with the franchise. While some pushed Glass to sue the Knicks for interference because the family had negotiated deals for Woodson for eight years and begun this one before the fallout, Glass’s issue was instead with Brown, who defended Woodson rather than Glass. 

After a lifetime together, Brown and the Glass family have not spoken in four years.

"The reason I wrote the book basically was for my father,” Glass said in a phone call. “I wanted to set it straight what Mike and Larry had done to my dad — not the Knicks. The reason I didn’t sue was I don’t think they interfered. The Knicks didn’t owe my father anything. Mike and Larry did. Integrity-wise, Larry did.”

Daylight saving time

While the Knicks have been rumored to be the landing spot for Kevin Durant in free agency this summer, the chase can begin officially six hours earlier than expected. The NBA changed the rules from 12:01 a.m. on July 1 to 6 p.m. ET on June 30 as the start time for negotiations to begin. By league rules, teams also will be permitted to communicate with free agents or their representatives beginning at 6 p.m. ET on June 29, solely for the purpose of scheduling a meeting to take place at or after 6 p.m. ET on June 30.

While that takes away the frantic phone calls and flights at midnight, it actually could get the decisions onto the evening news.

Money meaning

When the All-NBA teams were announced Thursday it not only recognized the great play of the elite players in the league, but also determined just how much money some of them can earn as free agents. In a bizarre part of the collective bargaining agreement, players quality for a supermax deal if they earn a spot on an All-NBA team in the most recent season or both seasons before the contract comes up or is named NBA Defensive player of the year in either of those two seasons or NBA MVP in any of the three previous seasons.

That means a player like Kemba Walker of Charlotte qualified and the Hornets can pay him a five-year, $221 million deal — 35 percent of the salary cap with eight percent raises — thanks to his spot on the third team, All-NBA squad. On the other hand, the Warriors cannot give a supermax to Klay Thompson because he just missed placing on the team.

While the Warriors may still be the favorites to keep Thompson, it makes it harder for a team, like the Knicks for example, to woo Walker from Charlotte because the Knicks can offer him only a four-year, $140 million deal. Kyrie Irving, with a second-team selection, also qualified for the supermax.

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