Harrison Barnes Is…?

On Tuesday, Harrison Barnes will congregate with 33 of his USA Basketball teammates in a three day Las Vegas mini-camp. Barnes is one of four players from the 2012 draft class to be invited. The other three, Anthony Davis, Bradley Beal and Andre Drummond, have at the very least, one thing they do spectacularly well. Davis scores, blocks shots and rebounds. Beal hits three point shots. And Drummond is a dynamite presence at the rim.

But Harrison Barnes is much harder to place. You can’t use one adjective to fill in the blank nor can you interpret his short career as good, trending towards great.

He is not extraordinary at any one thing. He is a nice scorer who can have awful shooting games, a good defender, a decent rebounder, an average passer. He will miss a wide open shot making you want to scream and then, the next possession, he will beat his man off the dribble and finish at the rim, or, he will make a tough contested shot falling away. His 10 points, 6 rebounds, 28 minute average of 2014-15 does not turn many heads. So how much is he really worth?

Keep in mind that two years ago, the Warriors overpaid Andre Igoudala. That same summer they made a great pitch to Dwight Howard only to be rejected at the eleventh hour. It was a Dwight Howard favor.

Last fall, the Warriors gave Klay Thompson a max extension. Thompson is a good shooting guard but not an elite one, he has too many nights like he had in the NBA Finals where he couldn’t make perimeter shots and didn’t get to the line. But he is an All-Star with the potential to grow his game by the time he reaches his prime. His 21.7 points in the regular season attest to that.

This summer, the Warriors paid Draymond Green probably more than he is worth for any other team but totally in line for what he does for the Warriors.

Next up on the get paid list is Harrison Barnes.

There are two questions, though. What is the worth of Harrison Barnes? What is his value? Both are dependent and independent of one another which is what makes it all very tricky. A player’s worth is usually determined by what the market says his worth is which is one reason to give a player an extension. That puts the “worth” question in the hands of the team he is playing for and doesn’t allow other teams willing to overspend to force you into financial purgatory.

The Warriors are no stranger to this. Several years ago, DeAndre Jordan was on the restricted free agent market and the Warriors signed him to a max contract sheet. Yes, they wanted Jordan. But if the Clippers matched their offer it would limit their flexibility. At the time, Jordan wasn’t a max player. Strategically, the Warriors forced the Clippers to pay Jordan like he was one. The NBA can be brutal.

Call it karma. Now the Warriors are in a similar place because in two years Stephen Curry is up for a max deal. Even with a rise in the cap the Warriors are going to be at the point of no return with so many players getting max or near max deals.

The Warriors will rationalize it by saying the bloated payroll pays for itself in championships. That kind of logic is valid if the Warriors are going to win the next five titles. But the evidence points to a different reality the Warriors can’t hide from. They trailed in the Western Conference Finals and the NBA Finals, two games to one. They are hardly the best team of their generation or a dominant juggernaut even though they won 67 games. They don’t have the best player in the NBA on their roster. Or, the second best. Chances are they are going to lose some only because the greatest players and greatest teams all lose. Winning in the NBA is hard. It’s been five years since a team won back-to-back titles.

It brings the Barnes question front and center. Is he worth $14 million a year, DeMarre Carroll money, as Zach Lowe of Grantland suggests. Unlike Carroll, Barnes isn’t an option the Warriors utilize with regularity. He eats next to last. But he can do some things and with the cap rising he is sure to see a lot of interest if he finds himself on the restricted list open market. Some team like the Mavericks will sign him to a near max deal which the Warriors cannot match.

The Warriors are uniquely challenged. How to keep the young players around for a decade given the money constraints is part of the battle of maintaining superiority. At some point you have to let people go. The Celtics did it. The Lakers did it. The Bulls did it. But that particular detail may have nothing to do with Harrison Barnes and his Warriors future if the front office is playing a game of charades, if they cover their eyes and pay Barnes a king’s ransom despite the consequences going forward.


photo via llananba