ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Monday that the Knicks and Barrett are finalizing a four-year extension to his rookie contract that could be worth up to $120 million. Barrett will become the fifth player from the 2019 draft to sign a rookie extension, joining Darius Garland, Ja Morant, Zion Williamson and Keldon Johnson.
The unusual timing of the extension — several weeks before the start of training camp — relates to New York’s pursuit of a trade for Mitchell. Per Wojnarowski, the Knicks gave Utah a deadline of Monday night to strike a deal before moving on to the extension for Barrett. The move complicates — though it does not preclude — his inclusion in a Mitchell package.
Let’s take a look at the parameters of Barrett’s extension, how the Knicks and Jazz could still make a Mitchell trade and explore the implications for both teams if Mitchell is not traded before the start of training camp.
New York bets on development, rising cap
It’s atypical for an extension of this size — worth about 75% of Barrett’s max salary — to get done this far before the deadline for rookie extensions, which falls on Oct. 17, the day before the start of the NBA regular season. That seems to reflect the Knicks’ eagerness to strike a deal with Barrett now, paying him handsomely for his production through three NBA campaigns.
Because Barrett plays in one of the league’s largest markets and is a volume scorer, his value has been a polarizing topic. Believers will point toward Barrett’s high scoring average (20.0 points per game last season) at age 21 as well as his diligent defense. Skeptics would note that Barrett’s .511 true shooting percentage ranked 39th of the 40 players to average at least 20 PPG, ahead of only teammate Julius Randle.
We’ve seen similar debates play out before about top picks Harrison Barnes and Andrew Wiggins, also known for volume over efficiency as young players. (In Barnes’ case, after leaving the Golden State Warriors to become a go-to guy with the Dallas Mavericks.) Both players have settled in somewhere between both extremes of the debate, becoming quality starters though not franchise players.
A similar outcome is likely in Barrett’s case. The addition of free agent guard Jalen Brunson as a shot creator out of pick-and-rolls should help ease Barrett back into a role closer to what he played for New York’s playoff-bound 2020-21 team, which saw his lowest usage rate (23%) and highest true shooting percentage (.535) to date. Barrett was boosted by 40% 3-point accuracy before slipping to 34% last season.
On paper, up to $30 million a year for a player best cast as a secondary option seems like a lot. However, the Knicks’ investment has to be considered in the context of the expected increase in the NBA’s salary cap over the next five seasons.
The league will soon negotiate new TV deals beginning with the 2025-26 season, and even if increased revenue from those deals is gradually “smoothed” into the system to avoid another single-year spike like we saw in 2016-17, it’s likely to cause rapid growth by the final two years of Barrett’s extension.
Given the bad contracts we saw handed out in 2016, I don’t buy that it’s impossible to overpay a player on a long-term deal right now. The value of replacement-level production won’t change appreciably as the cap rises, so players have to be better than that to justify increased salary. Still, getting a core player under contract through the next TV deal is a sensible bet for the Knicks.
What options exist for a Mitchell trade?
As soon as Barrett signs his extension, he’ll be subject to the so-called poison pill provision of the NBA salary cap, designed to prevent teams from signing players to contracts with large raises solely for trade purposes.
Until Barrett’s extension kicks in next July, his salary as an incoming player to a new team like Utah will be treated as the average of all five years on his contract (approximately $26.2 million), while his salary on the New York end of a trade remains his 2022-23 salary ($10.9 million).
As ESPN’s Bobby Marks explained, it’s possible to overcome the poison pill provision by simply making the total salaries large enough that the $16 million difference between how Barrett counts falls within the 25% allowable margin on both sides.
Alternatively, one of the two teams with significant unused cap space remaining (the Indiana Pacers and San Antonio Spurs) could take back a player like Evan Fournier, meaning he counts in the Knicks’ outgoing salary but not as incoming salary for the Jazz.
The point of New York setting a deadline in negotiations was surely to complete a trade involving Barrett before signing him to an extension. If he’s off the table in Mitchell discussions, that changes the value for Utah, which will surely ask for more of the Knicks’ eight tradeable first-round picks.
As the Jazz, I’d rather have extra draft picks than Barrett. Paying him on an extension makes less sense for a Utah team that has certainly operated as if it’s beginning a rebuild rather than retooling around young players. Even if Barrett’s extension proves a bargain, the Jazz’s forthcoming draft picks from the Rudy Gobert trade won’t be ready to impact winning over the next five seasons.
The question becomes whether New York is willing to part with enough picks to satisfy Utah. If not before training camp, the Jazz have more decisions to make.
What’s next for Utah if trade talks end with New York?
New York has been considered the frontrunner to land Mitchell because of the team’s draft-pick stockpile and Mitchell’s desire to play in his native NYC. If the Knicks are out of the picture, even temporarily, that changes the equation for Utah.
The Jazz could re-engage other teams on a Mitchell trade. Yet the nature of Mitchell’s contract — he’s still three seasons away from potentially hitting unrestricted free agency by declining his player option for the 2025-26 season — reduces the urgency for them to make a deal now. Utah can wait until the Mitchell market heats up again, perhaps if New York gets off to a slow start this season.
That could affect how the Jazz handle their other veteran players on the trade market. If Mitchell gets dealt, suddenly guards Jordan Clarkson and Mike Conley and forward Bojan Bogdanovic make little sense on a rebuilding Utah team. If Mitchell stays, the Jazz may prove content keeping most of last season’s core together and awaiting decisions at the trade deadline.
Because the current Utah roster is so heavy on perimeter players — the Jazz also added Malik Beasley and Talen Horton-Tucker to that group — and so thin at center, where Udoka Azubuike and rookie Walker Kessler are the team’s lone payers taller than 6-foot-9, there may be deals to make either way.
But any expected fire sale by Utah may not come to pass if Mitchell stays put.