RJ Barrett reflects on time with Knicks: ‘I helped build something in New York’

RJ Barrett was a home-grown talent who helped the Knicks become one of the more prominent teams in the Eastern Conference over the last few seasons.

However, his tenure in New York came to an abrupt end when the Knicks dealt him and Immanuel Quickley to Toronto in a trade headlined by OG Anunoby.

Unbeknownst to many, the deal was just as surprising to Barrett as it was to the basketball world.

“I had no clue. I just got the call when it happened. I was like, ‘What is going on?’” Barrett told Andscape recently. “I was so confused. I didn’t see it coming. When he told me the Raptors, I was like, ‘OK, at least I’m coming home.’”

Barrett, a Toronto native, was drafted third overall by the Knicks in the 2019 NBA Draft. In his four-plus seasons with New York, Barrett averaged 18 points, five rebounds and nearly three assists a game.

The Duke native was pegged to give the Knicks a young, prominent scorer alongside Julius Randle, and the No. 3 option once Jalen Brunson was signed but following a second-round exit in the playoffs last year, the Knicks struggled this season.

Prior to the trade, the Knicks were 17-14 but were worse defensively than a Tom Thibodeau-coached team usually is. A change was needed and the Knicks made it.

To both team’s credit, the deal has benefitted both organizations, so far. The Knicks are 4-0 entering Tuesday’s game against the Trail Blazers with Anunoby in the lineup, and the Raptors are 3-1 and have risen the Eastern Conference ranks.

In four games with Toronto, Barrett is averaging 21 points a game including a 37-point outburst in his game against the Warriors on Jan. 7.

The immediate future is bright for both Toronto and New York, but with Gotham in his rearview, Barrett looks fondly on his time with the Knicks.

“I helped build something in New York,” Barrett said. “When I came there we weren’t good. I left it a lot better than when it started. Definitely bittersweet, but I’m happy for those guys over there. They are happy about the trade they made and I wish nothing but the best for them.

“I grew up as a player and a person over there in New York. Those four-and-a-half years, I will never forget.”

The season prior to drafting Barrett, the Knicks went 17-65. His first season saw New York go 21-45 before going a combined 125-111 with two playoff appearances in the three years before this season, and Barrett was a big part of it.

Barrett and Quickley will return to The Garden on Jan. 20 when the Knicks host the Raptors.