Duke Basketball: Could Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett team up again?

(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /

New Orleans, the obvious winner in the Zion Williamson sweepstakes, is reportedly shopping its No. 4 pick to Memphis in order to swipe fellow former Duke basketball star R.J. Barrett from the New York Knicks.

It’s been a bit of a strange journey for R.J. Barrett.  He was the clear No. 1 recruit in the nation coming into the Duke basketball program in 2018 and, at the time, presumed No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.

Then Zion Williamson happened.

Barrett, arguably the second or third best player to ever come out of Canada behind his godfather Steve Nash, was brilliant during his lone season at Duke.  He set the freshman scoring record with 860 points, the only better season being J.J. Redick’s 964-point senior campaign.  Barrett finished as a consensus first-team All-American, was USA Today’s National Player of the Year, and second fiddle to the most transcendent college athlete of our generation.

Despite their obvious friendship and uncanny ability to always say the right thing in interviews, this had to be an odd spot for Barrett to find himself in.  When you lead your country to a gold medal at the FIBA U-19 Basketball World Cup and take an undefeated and top-ranked Montverde Academy to a national championship, you have to expect the next team you find yourself on to be “your” team.

By now we all know Williamson is going to the New Orleans Pelicans with the first overall pick, and RJ Barrett has been linked to the Knicks and the No. 3 pick for months now.

However, the Pelicans traded Anthony Davis for basically two-thirds of the Los Angeles Lakers – including former Duke star Brandon Ingram – and their No. 4 pick in tonight’s draft. This is where it gets interesting for Barrett.  According to multiple reports, the Pelicans have been shopping the pick to the Memphis Grizzlies in hopes of scoring their No. 2 pick and snatching Barrett there to pair him once again with Zion.

As a Duke fan, this is obviously intriguing.  Last year’s team was one of the most exciting teams to ever step on the court, and the chemistry between Barrett and Williamson seemed almost infectious at times.  Yes, seeing two of the best freshman to ever play in Cameron Indoor Stadium run and gun, side by side, in the league would be exciting and their combined star power would draw some serious eyeballs to New Orleans.

But man, can RJ catch a break?

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I’m sure he will say all the right things. I’m sure he would be elated to have his old teammate with him.  But at some point, don’t you think he wants his team again?  Even if it is the dysfunctional Knicks?  Does he want to spend the next few years again being in the background, celebrating another outrageous display of Zion’s athleticism? I don’t know the answer to these questions, only RJ does.  But there has to be a small piece of him that was looking forward to his team.

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Now, there are still some hurdles to overcome here, and it’s in no way a done deal at this point.  First, Memphis seems to have had their heart set on Ja Morant for a while now, a point made even more obvious when the franchise traded one of the league’s best point guards, Memphis legend Mike Conley Jr.  This seems to be an obvious signal that the Grizzlies are looking to draft their future point guard tonight, and Ja Morant is by far the best option in the draft.

Should the Grizzlies drop to No. 4 and the Pelicans take Barrett at No. 2, the Knicks will most likely pick up Morant at No. 3.  This would leave The Grizzlies with the option to take Darius Garland at No. 4.  Whether The Grizzlies believe that Garland, a terrific guard in his own right, can fill that spot will likely be the determining factor in whether this trade happens or not.

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Be sure to watch the drama unfold live tonight at 7:00 P.M. on ESPN and ESPN+.