Analysis: Warriors Dodged Messy Predicament With Harrison Barnes

Monte Poole

OAKLAND – Warriors CEO Joe Lacob was chatty and candid a few weeks ago discussing the generally blissful state of the Warriors, until he was presented with a question he pretended not to hear.

What would the Warriors have done if Kevin Durant had not come aboard?

Lacob, drawing a blank, asked that the question be repeated. It was.

His face then registered confusion. He asked that the question be repeated for a third time. It was.

He then said he couldn’t hear the question, though he obviously could. He added that he couldn’t understand the question, though he obviously could.

Lacob didn’t want to conceive of the likelihood of Harrison Barnes coming back to the Warriors. Didn’t want any part of it. So he basically closed his eyes and plugged his ears and uttered, “Can’t see you, can’t hear you . . . We got KD.”

Barnes won’t be coming back to the Warriors any time soon. He’ll be coming to Oracle Arena Wednesday night, though, as a member of the Dallas Mavericks, the team he agreed to join shortly after Durant chose to become a Warrior.

Barnes is coming off consecutive games of at least 30 points, the first such streak of his career. He may be blossoming in Big D, certainly more than he would have with the Warriors.

Truth is if Durant had chosen to stay in Oklahoma City or go elsewhere, the Warriors would have been neck-deep in a messy predicament with Barnes. They know it, and that’s why Durant’s decision to come west was cause for double celebration. They’d added the best player on the market, and one of the best three or four in the league, and they’d also dodged the decisions that would have followed if they had to reboot with Barnes instead of Durant.

It’s a thorny issue insofar as neither Lacob nor anyone else in the organization cared to visualize a locker room with Barnes as the highest-paid player on a team with a back-to-back MVP (Stephen Curry), a two-time All-Star (Klay Thompson) and a third All-Star (Draymond Green) who represents and heart of the team.

“It would have been a little awkward,” Barnes told reporters Tuesday in Los Angeles, where the Mavericks posted a 109-97 win over the Lakers. “At the (Warriors) press conference if they would have been like, ‘Yeah, we really wanted him to come back.’ No one would really believe that.”

Barnes is absolutely right. The Warriors were done with him, ready to move on from the youngster they drafted seventh overall in 2012. They liked him plenty; he’s a solid citizen. They nurtured him, too, but they eventually concluded he lacked the characteristics required of a dependable starting forward.

He was, after all, the guy who during the NBA Finals, failed to convert the many open shots he got as a beneficiary of being on the same team as Curry, Thompson and Green. Though Lacob never mentioned Barnes by name, he said plenty enough to illustrate his justifiable belief that a decent series from Barnes would have spared the Warriors the indignity of becoming the first team ever to blow a 3-1 series lead in The Finals.

Durant’s decision to join the Warriors was, then, a panacea. It saved their anxious backsides.

It was Barnes who was, after all, identified by many Warriors fans as the goat of The Finals. With the Warriors up 3-1 in the series and entering Game 5 with Green on suspension, Barnes shot 2-of-14 from the field. With the series at 3-2 and Green back for Game 6, Barnes was 0-of-8 and scoreless. Now tied 3-3 but playing Game 7 at Oracle Arena, this was Barnes’ last chance for redemption.

He failed, going 3-of-10 from the field and grabbing one rebound in 29 minutes, while committing four fouls. The Warriors lost by four (93-89) and immediately dropped to their knees and began praying for Durant.

“I think we knew they were going to blow it up if we lost that series, which we did,” Barnes said. “I can’t say I was surprised.”

Barnes had become, to the Warriors, the unreliable starter who suddenly was in position to demand more in salary than the other four starters. That’s how the NBA works. Contracts are all about timing, and he happened to become a restricted free agent – and, therefore, subject to a massive offer from another team – at a time when the Warriors were most disenchanted with his work.

Once they received a commitment from Durant, on July 4, the Warriors were thrilled to let Barnes walk. The Mavericks came calling, with a four-year contract worth $94 million.

The Warriors are happy for Barnes. They’re appreciably happier for themselves.

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