RJ Barrett woke up in an Indianapolis hotel room, ready to play the Pacers with the New York Knicks. But when he checked his phone he thought he was still dreaming because he’d been traded to his hometown Toronto Raptors.
“My initial reaction was like, ‘what’s going on?’ I just woke up to it,” said a smiling Barrett. “I was immediately happy.
“I grew up a Raptors fan all my life. So to come here and put this jersey on, it’s going to be great.”
Barrett, from Mississauga, Ont., and guard Immanuel Quickley had their first morning shootaround with the Raptors on Monday, two days after they were traded to Toronto from the Knicks.
Even two days after the deal was made official, Barrett was still bubbling with excitement.
“Really, really happy, really excited to be here. I’m thankful and blessed,” said Barrett at a post-practice news conference. “There’s so many things I want to say, but it just sums up to being thankful to God for this opportunity.
Toronto sent forwards OG Anunoby and Precious Achiuwa along with guard Malachi Flynn to the New York Knicks on Saturday for Barrett, Quickley, and a second-round pick in the 2024 NBA Draft.
The 23-year-old Barrett is averaging 18.2 points per game this season but has struggled lately with his outside shot, going 2 for 12 from three-point range over his last two games with New York. The No. 3 pick in the 2019 draft helped the Knicks reach the playoffs twice in the last three seasons after missing them the previous seven.
He said that he thinks the change of scenery came at the right time in his career.
“I think because of my time in New York, I’m able to to have a routine down. I know who I am, I know what I do,” said Barrett. “Maybe if I came here at 19 it would have been a little more difficult, but having grown up a little bit, I understand how I need to work and what I need to do.”
Barrett was also one of the anchors for the Canadian men’s team that won a bronze medal at the FIBA World Cup in September. It was the first-ever World Cup medal for Canada, which also earned a berth at the 2024 Paris Olympics.
The Canadian said that Quickley, the runner-up for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award last season, is like a brother to him. The 24-year-old shooting guard is averaging 15 points, 2.6 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 24 minutes per game this season.
“As soon as we got the word [of the trade,] he told me anything I need, to hit him up,” said Quickley on his relationship with Barrett. “When I got to New York, RJ was one of the first guys that I got close with and then playing against him, U.S.A. versus Canada, has always been cool. Just having a brother like RJ is great.”
Neither Barrett nor Quickley was sure if they would play against Cleveland.
“We went over some stuff just now trying to learn everything on the fly,” said Barrett about his first practice with his new team. “In terms of expectations and role, I have no clue.
“I just got here so I’m just trying to see how these games go and just see how we can grow in as a group.”
Quickley said the Raptors had been very welcoming but, like Barrett, he wasn’t yet sure how head coach Darko Rajakovic would use him in games.
“It’s been unbelievable, couldn’t ask for anything better,” he said. “Great city great culture. The camaraderie of the team is great.
“You can tell that people care about each other around here and you couldn’t ask for anything better than that.”
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