With the lockout throwing a shadow over everything normally associated with the NBA offseason, it's impossible to tell when the basketball will be back to normal. At some point, though, the lockout will be solved, the players and owners will finally be (relatively) happy, and life will go on. Whenever that happens, the Mavericks are going to have a lot of big decisions to make (and no, I'm not talking about rings or bracelets, although that's bound to be an entertaining decision). Free agency is right front and center for the Mavericks, and the decision to resign or let go Jose Barea is a crucial first step as the Mavericks try to assemble as good of a team as they can to use Dirk is his prime to make another championship run, while still preparing and readying for the future.
The Case for Resigning J.J.
J.J. Barea, despite any faults or weaknesses he may have, was a crucial part of the Mavericks championship run. He provided spurts of energy and offense in many games and forced defenses to adjust when he penetrated the lane at will. In this league, isn't that a goal night in and night out? Make teams adjust to your style, make them play out of character, and make them feel uncomfortable.
As a championship team -- in other words, the best team in the entire NBA -- the obvious thing to do is to keep that team intact as much as possible to have the best shot at being the best team again. To lose Cardinal or Peja is one thing, but to lose a player who started for the Mavericks in Game 6 and played 30 minutes? That's a loss that's harder to replace.
The bigger issue with losing JJB is this: there's no obvious replacement behind him. Everyone and their dog has had high expectations for Rodrigue Beaubois, but he followed up a disappointing seasons with another surgery on his foot. Its safe to say that even if he is ready for the start of the season (with the lockout, it seems likely), he won't have got near the practice and reps he needs. He's a young guy who did not pick up basketball until he was 16, so while his fabulous potential still exists, he'll still need more developing to utilize it fully.
Dominique Jones is an interesting prospect, but like Roddy, he lacks the experience. Its possible he's ready for a consistent place as a role player, but it's hard to tell. He appeared to be adjusting, and his stint in the Developmental League certainly helped, but he's just a prospect.
Recently acquired Rudy Fernandez possibly could get a few minutes here and there, but is by no means an answer to the role. Nick Calathes is settled in Greece and would be a fool to try to come over this year with all the craziness stemming from the lockout.
And so what are the Mavericks left with? Jason Kidd, who'll be turning 39, as the only proven point guard. In theory, he should not play more minutes than his age a single game this year. But with Roddy and Dojo and Rudy as his primary backups, he might have to do that on a nightly basis.
Now, there is the question of money, of a team overpaying JJB because of his great playoff performance, of the new CBA. But let's get real: Mark Cuban is a smart guy (understatement) with a lot of money (also an understatement). He can figure out a way to make it work, even if he has to overpay JJB some. If the money is comparable, I don't think there's a chance JJB wouldn't come back. After all, the Mavericks are the NBA Champions and he's definitely going to get playing time. He might even give the Mavericks a discount -- not too much, but he certainly owes his NBA career to the Mavericks, so there is that to consider.
The Case Against Bringing JJB Back
Barea had a great playoff stretch coming off the bench to score with his attacking mentality. Because of his strong games, its easy to forget his struggles, too. Especially in the early games against Miami, Barea struggled with his offense. In Game 2, where the Mavericks had to pull a frantic comeback out of nowhere to win the game, Barea was a big reason for the deficit. Down the stretch, he was given great opportunities to score and couldn't do so. It was an offense without JJB that eventually lead the miraculous charge to overtake and win in regulation.
Add in the fact that his defense resembles that of a matador's, and that he'll sometimes forget he's just a backup point guard not a primary scoring option, and it's clear that while JJB is a good player, he's only worth so much. Free agency does not work off of what's clear or obvious, though. Some team out there, needed a guard with offense and enamored with his playoff performance, will overpay to sign Barea. In fact, it happened to the Mavericks a few years back, where Orlando offered a much larger contract to Brandon Bass than the Mavericks were interesting in giving him. Notice that instead of overpaying, they let him go too.
That's the problem. JJB can be brought back, but it would require him being paid more than he's worth. I said above that Cuban is a smart guy with a lot of money. Well, he's a rich guy because he was smart. JJB helped the Mavericks, but to overpay for a player who clearly has weaknesses is not smart basketball. Cuban is also completely aware that, in start contrast to this year's lockout muddled one, next year's offseason has some of the league's best free agents available. If the Mavericks want a shot at those sweepstakes, they need avoid handing out new contracts that will guarantee money or several years to come.
Looking towards the future, JJB actually poses a problem. He's not a starter, that much is clear. His scoring mentality contrasts well with Jason Kidd, but his ability to run an offense is not nearly well enough developed to entrust 30+ minutes a night to him. Now, its up to the Mavericks to find their replacement for Kidd. Roddy Beaubois and Dominique Jones are two options, but both are very raw. They need minutes. If JJB is backing up Kidd, where are those minutes going to come from? Quite frankly, they're not. Maybe its time to throw them into the fire, see how they respond, and hope for the best. If backup PG is a complete disaster and hurting the Mavs consistently, there's sure to be trades, or better yet players who have been bought out, available to acquire on the cheap.
The Mavericks love what JJB brings, but ultimately its more than just that. His weaknesses are substantially enough that he does not feel an imminent need, and worse, prevents other players from maturing and learning enough to be need-fillers themselves. Next year's PG position may end up causing issues for the Mavericks if they let Barea walk, but over the next four or five years it will become clear that it was worth it. With the contract and money he will demand, it just makes more sense for the Mavericks to pass on JJB as they think about what is to come in the coming years.
As you can see, decisions about the Mavericks future point guard, their ability to get involved in the free agency class of 2012, their backup PG for next year, and whether Roddy and Jones can play point guard all hinge on JJB and what the Mavericks decide to do with him. There's convincing cases on both sides, another reason to put in your "Reasons Never to Become a NBA GM" list.
Its difficult for me to predict anything without knowing inside detail about the young point guard prospects and the Maverick plans for them in the future, or just how interesting other teams are in him. If forced to guess, though, I believe that JJB is playing for a different team next year. Of course the Mavericks want him back, but with a new CBA and other teams likely offering more than the Mavericks are willing to pay, he will take his talents elsewhere where he will have more freedom to an important option. For the Mavericks, they now that this upcoming 2012 free agency class is a real thing, and it's clear from looking at decisions the Mavericks front office has been making that they want to have their foot in that too. Of course it's a gamble to assume that they can convince a free agent to make their home in Dallas, but taking chances has never been something the Mavericks were afraid of. For just next year, losing Barea might cause some issues, but ultimately, he'll hinder the Mavs and their future more than help. Regardless of what happens, he'll never be forgotten as one of the 2010-11 NBA Champions.
(writer's note: Free Agency, Part 2, will appear sometime later this week. It will deal with the rest of the free agents the Mavericks have. Did 2012 free agency peak your interest? Want to know more? A highly informative break down of it is in the works, although it will take some time.)