In carrying the Knicks to a surprisingly successful 2020-21 season, a lot of the load landed on the shoulders of Julius Randle. He led the league in minutes played en route to All-Star and second-team All-NBA recognition. You would have to think that he's untouchable, as he should be, and his previously undesirable contract now comes across as a bargain for the 2021-22 campaign.
But we shouldn't forget about the guy who was right behind Randle, finishing with the second most minutes in the entire NBA: RJ Barrett. He showed overall improvement from his rookie campaign — some of which naturally stemmed from a stronger team performance — with better stats in his sophomore season pretty much across the board.
While Randle is untouchable, however, the opposite may be true for Barrett. The Knicks made a large investment in him, using the third overall pick in the 2019 Draft to select the Duke grad, and they're already seeing nice improvement that could potentially blossom into All-Star production sooner rather than later. For those same reasons, though, he's that much more valuable as a trade asset, and if he's the key ingredient to bringing in an established star, rumor has it the Knicks are fine with using him that way.
According to Kristian Winfield of the New York Daily News, the Knicks are looking to acquire a star guard, and packaging Barrett with other assets is how they're interested in doing so. The guards listed were headlined by allegedly disgruntled Blazers star Damian Lillard and Wizards scoring machine Bradley Beal, though the list of names continues with Cleveland’s Collin Sexton, Oklahoma City’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Charlotte’s Terry Rozier if the primary targets are unavailable.
But will a "mix of Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley along with their draft picks and draft swaps," as Winfield suggests, be enough to pry Lillard or Beal away from their respective teams, especially with organizations like the 76ers floating established stars in their attempts to negotiate a deal? That's a question that remains to be answered.
If the Knicks can land one of the aforementioned guards to pair with Randle, Winfield adds that they'll come closer to pushing in all their chips by also pursuing Kelly Oubre Jr. The Warriors free agent would create a "more complete roster" alongside those two stars, and Winfield's source told him that the thought is that head coach Tom Thibodeau could bring out the best in Oubre, especially with regards to his three-point production. A career-best 35.2 percent shooter from deep, Oubre couldn't even convert a third of his long-range attempts despite taking about 40 percent of his shots from there, and his start was especially rough.
But — and let's just look at this hypothetical — a trio of Randle, Beal/Lillard and an improved, accurate Oubre Jr., perhaps showing similar development to Randle and Barrett? I think most Knicks fans would be on board with that.
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