If there’s been a backdrop to this wonderful Warriors’ season it’s been this: What’s going to happen with Harrison Barnes when it’s all over? Barnes, if you don’t know, is a restricted free agent and there are questions about whether he’s part of the Warriors’ long-term future or not.
Before the season began, Barnes turned down a four-year, $64 million contract extension, a move that left many Warriors’ fans scratching their heads. How could a player such as Barnes, the fourth or fifth option, turn down that kind of money?
Barnes, of course, knew what he was doing. With the salary cap poised to jump in a big way this offseason with the influx of television money, Barnes was betting on himself. One solid season and he was going to be able to make more than that.
Problem is, Barnes’ season hasn’t been solid. It’s been barely OK. After starting out the season well, Barnes missed 16 games because of an ankle injury. In his absence, Golden State went 14-2. Fair to say, Barnes hasn’t been the same player since returning. And lately, he’s been closer to awful than good.
In the past seven games, Barnes is shooting 14-for-47 from the field (29.7 percent), including 0-for-14 from 3-point range. As he told 95.7-FM The Game more than a week ago, he can’t “throw it in the ocean.” Nothing has changed in the meantime.
With the playoffs looming, Barnes’ struggles are becoming more and more worrisome for the Warriors. Barnes is an important part of the team’s small lineup which finishes many close games. His ability to defend power forwards is critical to Golden State’s success.
The question becomes, though, at what point does Barnes’ offensive ineffectiveness starts to trump his defensive benefit? Can Warriors head coach Steve Kerr continue to try to milk production out of Barnes if production is nowhere in sight? Adding to all the uncertainty is the idea that Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant, a free agent, is interested in joining the Warriors in the offseason.
That makes all the Barnes’ speculation grow louder. Because Barnes is restricted, the Warriors will have the right to match any offer of an opposing team. But will the Warriors want to?
The good news is there’s still time, and the better news is that the Warriors have three remaining games against the San Antonio Spurs and possibly a playoff series against them.
Barnes enjoyed one of his best runs during his rookie year when the Warriors played the San Antonio Spurs in the second round of the playoffs. During that six-game series, Barnes averaged 17.3 points per game, while shooting 43.4 percent from the field. He also pulled 7.3 rebounds per game in that series.
If you’ll remember, Barnes took advantage of the Spurs’ cross-matching that series. Frequently, Barnes would be guarded by Spurs point guard Tony Parker, and he was smart enough and talented enough to cause problems there.
The Warriors are doing their thing these days despite Barnes’ struggles. But can the Warriors continue to thrive – even in the postseason – if Barnes isn’t at his best? Or maybe a better question is this: If the Warriors win when Barnes isn’t playing well, why do they need him moving forward anyway?