The Cleveland Cavaliers are in a tough spot. After missing out on a top-3 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft because, well, the new NBA Draft Lottery is horrible, they are now in a position to not draft a franchise-changing player in 2019, further delaying the rebuilding process. While there will likely be an All-Star from this draft that isn’t selected in one of the first three picks, finding that player has now become much tougher given their fall to No. 5. Zion Williamson would have been a dream. Ja Morant would have been quite fun. RJ Barrett seems like the next big-time scorer and slasher in the 2019 class. All three of those players are projected to be the top-3 picks in the draft unless something unforeseen takes place.
It’s one of the many reasons Cleveland is looking to trade up to be able to snag one of the three. It’s damn near impossible to trade up to No. 1 and the Memphis Grizzlies already seemingly have their heart set on taking Morant, so that only leaves New York as a potential suitor to possibly trade up to. There’s a reason the Cavs seem to have so much interest in Barrett.
Was told Cavs really want RJ Barrett… so we'll see how aggressive they get. https://t.co/AgrVKSx3y1
— Steve Kyler (@stevekylerNBA) May 18, 2019
Barrett would be a franchise-altering addition. In his lone season at Duke, he led the ACC in scoring as a true freshman, averaging 22.6 points per game in 38 games.1 He also averaged 7.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists while shooting 45.4 percent from the field and 30.8 percent from beyond the arc. At 6-foot-7, 202 pounds, the forward proved that he is a more-than-capable playmaker when he has the ball in his hands, as his 23.5% assist rate proves. Keep in mind, that’s on a Blue Devil team that didn’t have many floor spacers, as the team shot just 30.2 percent from long distance as a team. He’s a highly-capable playmaker and high-quality scorer, the type of player every team would love, including the Cavaliers.
On Monday, Barrett was quite blunt and made it known that he wants to be the No. 3 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft and play for the New York Knicks.
R.J. Barrett won't be meeting with any other teams, and says that he wants to be a Knick:
"This is the place I want to be, I hope they draft me" pic.twitter.com/E1i11C1C17
— SNY (@SNYtv) June 10, 2019
“I won’t be meeting with any other teams,” Barrett said after his workout with the Knicks. “If that ends up that I’m still there at three, sure I would love for them to take me. This is the place I want to be, so I hope they draft me,” he said.
I mean, it really doesn’t get more definitive than that. As a draft prospect, there’s only so much a player can do to determine where (and when) he is drafted, but Barrett only working out and meeting with the team in the Big Apple makes it seem quite obvious that the Knicks will be the team that drafts him. While he said this for this exact reason, the leverage he holds here is a bit bigger than people may realize.
The Raptors-Kawhi Leonard pairing proved to many that even when a player has a list of teams that he would want to play for, a player and team can still excel even if the said team wasn’t one of said player’s preferred destinations, but that’s also a completely different situation than Cleveland. The Raptors were seemingly just one star away from making a trip to the NBA Finals, along with the help of LeBron James leaving for the West. Barrett has never stated that he wouldn’t want to play for the Cavs, but he has already made it known that he has one team in mind: New York. If Cleveland were to take him, would he be motivated? A rebuilding team paired with a player that would rather be donning another team’s jersey doesn’t seem like a good combination, especially considering Koby Altman and Dan Gilbert have repeatedly stated that they are looking for players who are self-motivated and ‘good culture’ guys.
Trading up to the No. 3 pick is quite a feat for the wine and gold, given how much they would have to give up. Given that alone, it already seemed very unlikely that it would happen. Combine this with Barrett’s recent comments and, well, it’s most likely not going to happen. Rumors will continue to swirl and Barrett would honor the Cavs trading up and picking him because he’s a professional, but Cleveland would be wise to not do so, saving themselves and keeping their future draft assets.
It’s hard enough making players believe that that there is light at the end of the tunnel when you are a rebuilding team, especially on a small-market team. Doing so with a player that doesn’t even want to be on the team and would rather be in the Big Apple would make all of that much, much tougher. During LeBron’s second stint with the wine and gold, the Cavs used the “All In” motto for their four-consecutive trips to the NBA Finals. In the post-LeBron era, they can still use the same motto, but in this case, it means something totally different. Now, they want their players to be “all in” while trying to rebuild. It’s why the Cavaliers shouldn’t trade up to No. 3 to take Barrett.