After the Kevin Durant sweepstakes arrives at its thrilling conclusion, the Golden State Warriors are going to have to take a long look in the mirror and contemplate what to do about Harrison Barnes.
It’s never enjoyable for a choice of this magnitude to present itself, because the wrong decision can set back future endeavors and have major repercussions down the road for situations that haven’t materialized yet.
Durant choosing the Warriors makes all of this a moot issue, and will conveniently allow the Warriors to skirt a monumental dilemma.
If Durant chooses any team but the Warriors, they will have to think long and hard about the type of impact Barnes can have for that hefty price tag.
The Dallas Mavericks have deemed Barnes worthy of a max contract, and are expected to sign him to an offer sheet worth $95 million for 4 years.
ESPN sources say that the Mavericks intend to sign Warriors restricted free agent Harrison Barnes to a four-year max offer sheet on July 7
— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) July 2, 2016
The Warriors have vowed to match any offer that Barnes gets from another team if they can’t acquire Durant, but should they?
It’s a difficult question to answer. I’m a huge believer in intangible chemistry, meaning that sometimes a group of players just meshes well together, and in a league full of egomaniacal divas and blatant jerks, it’s not something to take for granted.
The Warriors have cultivated a locker room not just abundant with talent, but also strong camaraderie. That is unquestionably hard to accomplish.
Barnes has been a starter on a team that won a championship and set the regular season wins record in separate seasons.
His future with the team would be much easier to argue had they won game 7 against the Cleveland Cavaliers. I had been selling people around me on the philosophy that essentially claimed “all’s well that ends well.” A championship team should do its best to return the cogs that won them that championship, no matter the cost.
All didn’t end well, though. The Warriors went cold during the worst possible stretch to do so, and nobody was colder than Barnes. He went 5-32 from the field in the Warriors’ final 3 games of the season. Had he played better, they’d be back-to-back champions.
He’s not a max player in a vacuum. I don’t think anybody argues that at this point. He’s extremely talented, but has profoundly underachieved since entering the league. He’s good but not great on defense, prone to long disappearances on the court, and has never averaged more than 12 points per game in any of his 4 NBA seasons.
A team that gives him a max contract is basically betting on the fact that the reason his numbers are as low as they are is because he defers to 3 other players in his lineup and that given the chance, he’d elevate his game to another level when asked to do more.
I was more prone to believe that before the NBA Finals. Of all the times for him to be able to elevate his game, like the game Draymond Green was suspended for, he didn’t do it. When Stephen Curry looked like he was running on fumes and able to break down towards the end of game 7, Barnes didn’t lift his game to help out.
4 seasons into his career, perhaps Barnes is what he is, and any hopes of meaningful surges into the next tier of NBA stardom is wishful thinking based on the promise he showed as a young player before entering the league.
Having said all this, Barnes played a huge role in the Warriors becoming the premier NBA franchise of the past 2 seasons. When he’s hitting outside shots, he’s a great component to have on the court. The problem is that when those shots don’t fall, it’s hard for him to meaningfully impact a game.
That’s what max players have to do: find a way to contribute even if their best skill set fails them for a stretch of time.
It’s not just the principle of the matter that makes it difficult to justify the Warriors matching Barnes’ deal with the Mavericks, but the future impact it can have on roster construction.
Devoting that much money to a guy who has never averaged more than 12 points per game and isn’t an impact player in the traditional sense of the word is going to decrease spending flexibility in future offseasons.
The free agent market is an imperfect science, because undoubtedly team officials make wrong decisions. But whether Barnes is worthy of his Mavericks deal is irrelevant at this point. He got it, and the Warriors now have a crucial decision to make about the future of their franchise.
Match the Barnes offer and essentially accept that they will be overpaying based on production, but ensuring that a key cog in all the winning they’ve done is back on the team.
Let Barnes walk, and take solace in the fact that he definitely wasn’t worth that money, but also accept that a key player on a historically great roster is gone and finding an adequate replacement isn’t a sure thing.
I hope Durant chooses the Warriors, because it will shield them from a difficult decision that would keep any NBA executive awake at night.