Since the 2016 NBA Finals concluded in dramatic fashion and the Golden State Warriors saw their historic season slip away from them in an as impressive historic fashion, perhaps no Warriors player has hit a harder speed bump than Harrison Barnes. The former lottery pick has been dubbed by basketball social media as the newest target to roast. Which, in and of itself, is surprising considering Barnes is the fourth or even fifth most impactful player on the Warriors. While the criticism may be warranted, Barnes’s recent setback will fog the narrative of how talented a player he is and the potential he has yet to grow into. He was still a starter on the most-winningest regular season team in NBA history, he has the ability to defend four different positions on the court, he is a consistent and legitimate three point threat, and he is still only 24-years-old. Plus, the basketball world saw how the lethal “Death Lineup” of the Warriors became very human at the exact time Barnes jumper became as unreliable as Cersei being able to keep her children alive (Game of Thrones reference for the win).
The hesitation and doubt surrounding Barnes talent is understandable. His confidence seems to be shaken; his image is hanging in limbo. While the Barnes verdict continues to be grappled with, there are teams on the market who are in need of a wing player like Barnes. One team will eventually cave in and take a chance on Barnes hoping he becomes the player so many scouts thought he would be coming out of North Carolina
Should Barnes cash out on such a profitable market while he can? Or should he find a team that allows him the chance to grow into a centerpiece of a team? Or can Barnes find both these in one team? I don’t know — nobody does — but it never hurts analyze a situation. Let’s take a look at which teams have the most to offer Barnes this free agency.
Golden State Warriors
While keeping Barnes in the Bay Area might not be the most popular move, Golden State could do well to stand by their own draft pick. Barnes’ role on the team isn’t being given enough justice post-Finals talk, considering Barnes is the player who allows the Death Lineup to flourish. His big body and defense allows him to guard most team PF’s, and his ability to shoot the three ball and take a traditional PF off the dribble gave Golden State another lethal offensive weapon.
Of course, Barnes’ price tag will determine how the Warriors approach their dealings. Golden State has extended a qualifying offer to Barnes, making him a restricted free agent and allowing the Warriors to price match any offer the small forward receives. Barnes himself has already openly stated his primary choice would be to stay in the Bay, so Golden State does seem to have leeway on the market. Early free agency noise (for example those coming out of the Philadelphia 76ers camp) indicate that a couple of teams may offer Barnes the max in an attempt to pry him away from the Warriors.
Right now, we know the Warriors are “all in” on the Kevin Durant sweepstakes and the front office is willing to shuffle their deck in order to open enough cap space to offer Durant max salary. But, should the Dubs fail to persuade their top target Durant to sport their blue and yellow jerseys, Barnes could be their next choice. There is mutual interest from both sides, and when both sides genuinely want a deal to work out, it usually does. Barnes knows what the culture in Golden State is all about. The Warriors know what type of player Barnes is. It makes sense for both parties. The only road block, for now, is that other, more talented guy.
Portland Trail Blazers
If the Warriors are able to snag Harrison Barnes and team him up with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum then — oh my god, what is that noise? It’s Brandon Roy crawling out of his grave. HE’S READY TO TAKE THE BLAZERS TO THE FINALS AT LAST.
The age of Barnes matches the rest of the remaining Blazers young core. Lillard, 25; McCollum, 24; Al-Farouq Aminu, 25; Meyers Leonard, 24; Barnes, 24; Brandon Roy, 31 — on second thought, maybe somebody ought to break the news to Roy..
Jokes aside, the Blazers have a talented young core that is also proven and ready to be a consistent presence in the Western Conference playoffs. Portland recently extended a qualifying offer to Maurice Harkless, making him a restricted free agent. On the other hand, were the Blazers to lose Harkless to free agency, acquiring Barnes would knock two birds with one stone. First, the Blazers would be getting an upgrade at the three spot and they would become more deep and versatile on defense; an attribute they severely lacked last season. A starting four of McCollum, Lillard, Aminu, and Barnes, on paper at least, is young forced that can cause havoc.
Barnes’ fit on Portland would be organic. Portland’s roster as it stands, Barnes would be the number three offensive weapon on the team — a larger role from his current situation in Golden State, but a situation that wouldn’t require too drastic a jump that would overwhelm him with unbearable pressure to perform at an elite level. What do the Blazers offer similar to the Warriors? Something Barnes is accustomed to: a terrific scoring backcourt where both guards can knock down three pointers and drive to the paint and dish out to an equally well-shooting forward in Barnes. Barnes should receive easy open looks as he has with the Warriors and Stotts fast paced, floor spacing offense is a system Barnes could flourish in. So why not, Portland? Give the kid a shot. Give the Warriors a run for their money — literally.
The Hawks could potentially be in a transitional rebuild. They just traded their (now, former) starting point guard, Jeff Teague, in hopes that the younger Dennis Schroder will reach a higher ceiling than Teague has. Al Horford will be one of the three highest sought after free agents and at 30-years-old, he could be looking to join a championship caliber team for the latter portion of his career (in that case, bye, Atlanta). Most obviously, Atlanta’s starting small forward, Kent Bazemore is a free agent this summer and he will be an attractive player to several teams looking for a small forward.
Insert Harrison Barnes for Bazemore and the Hawks not only filled their missing role, but they just got a better and younger talent. The eastern conference could be a fresh start for Barnes and Mike Budenholzer is one of the finer coaches in the NBA who could maximize the swingman’s potential. If Atlanta loses out on Horford and Bazemore, their front office could feel enough pressure to make a splash in free agency; signing Barnes would be a big enough splash to make headlines. More so if they throw the maximum salary at Barnes in an effort to quickly close the deal after losing two of their own.
As the Hawks are betting on Schroder to get better as he gets older each year, they would be placing the same gamble on Barnes. The upside Atlanta would receive is high and rewarding. That alone could push the Hawks over the edge.