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Harrison Barnes’ last ride as a role player in Rio

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Barnes is headed to Dallas to join their core, but not before he serves as a role player once more for Team USA.

Olympics: Basketball-USA Men's Press Confernce Andrew P. Scott-USA TODAY Sports

RIO DE JANEIRO — Team USA scattered around the Samba interview room in Rio near the Olympic Park on Thursday.

In the front corner of the room on the right side of the stage was Kevin Durant.

Cameras flashed and recorders were plunged near his face from what seemed like an endless number of reporters from across the globe.

In the opposite back-corner of the room was new Mavericks forward Harrison Barnes. Nowhere near as many cameras. Nowhere near as many recorders. Nowhere near as many reporters. Not with Durant, Carmelo Anthony and Kyrie Irving in the same space.

These 2016 Olympics are Barnes’ last ride as a role player, after spending most of his first four years as one with the Warriors. In a few months, Barnes, with a newly signed $94 million contract, will be asked to be one of the Dallas Mavericks’ top two players and a foundation piece for the franchise.

And he’s using Team USA to his advantage.

"There’s not a gym I can go to in the States and find 11 guys this good and say ‘Hey, wanna play some pickup?’" Barnes said. "That’s really fun for me to be here."

***

This isn’t a normal Olympics. A number of athletes, including basketball players, elected not to travel to Rio, citing concerns over the Zika virus and recovery from injuries.

LeBron James, after leading the Cavaliers to an NBA title, opted out. So did Russell Westbrook, James Harden and two-time reigning MVP Stephen Curry.

The door opened for Barnes, and he didn’t hesitate.

"My initial thought was just ‘Yes’ when they asked me," Barnes said. "But I had to do some research. Figure out what the risks of Zika were, how security is going to be done. All that kind of stuff."

Even without a few of the NBA’s top players, Team USA is still heavily favored to win gold in Rio. Their exhibition blowouts has been evidence of that.

One of those came on July 26 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, where Barnes played the first four years of his career. He got a warm ovation from the Golden State faithful for perhaps the last time.

"It was just great to be playing there, especially to be playing on the Olympic team," Barnes said. "I think that was pretty cool. That was probably the last time I’ll be able to be in that arena and be cheered for."

The Games cap off what Barnes calls one of the craziest summers of his life.

He struggled in the NBA Finals against Cleveland, averaging 9.3 points in the seven-game series, including a scoreless Game 6 loss. The Cavs won their first title in seven games.

Barnes hit restricted free agency, but soon realized Golden State had its eyes on Durant. The Mavericks immediately vaulted to the top of his wish list.

And, after Dallas let Chandler Parsons walk and struck out on Mike Conley and Hassan Whiteside, the fit was clear.

"I knew a lot about those guys already, and it was more so just getting a feel for them, talking to them and making sure everything I thought it would be was there," Barnes said. "And it was."

***

Barnes couldn’t help but smile every time Rick Carlisle was mentioned. He spoke highly of the Mavs’ head coach, praising his attention on the court and his uniqueness off it.

Barnes said he received offers from other teams with money in the same range as the $94 million he got from Dallas. But a number of factors made Dallas the logical choice.

Carlisle is near the top of the list. The two have already worked out together in Dallas and Barnes’ home state of Iowa. Parsons, Dallas’ last big free agent acquisition, built a relationship with Carlisle, but it wasn’t without its struggles.

Barnes and Carlisle’s relationship, it seems, couldn’t have started better. Even a few weeks in, Barnes has already taken note of Carlisle’s quirks.

"He loves his extra ice, man," Barnes said with a laugh. "He always gets a cup of just straight ice. Whatever drink he gets, it’s always a cup of straight ice. He always grabs a few cubes at a time — it’s like a ritual he has."

Barnes also spoke to former Golden State teammate David Lee and fellow North Carolina alum Vince Carter about Dallas. Lee spent half of last season with the Mavs, while Carter was Dallas’ sixth-man from 2012-2014.

"They loved it," Barnes said. "Loved coach Carlisle, loved Dirk (Nowitzki), loved (Mavs owner Mark) Cuban, loved the city. I didn’t get one bad report."

And then, there’s the roster — Wesley Matthews and Nowitzki in particular. Dallas once envisioned Parsons and Matthews as their wing duo for the future, but Barnes now becomes Matthews’ new partner.

"Dirk is the Hall-of-Famer and a guy I’m looking forward to learning from a lot," Barnes said. "But Wes is going to be the guy that’s my running mate for a long time hopefully to come."

Barnes has also admired Nowitzki’s game from afar, calling him one of the top-5 closers in NBA history. His new locker in Dallas in next to Nowitzki’s, and the two have talked since Barnes signed, though he wouldn’t reveal much of the conversation.

"In his own way, there were some very kind words," Barnes said.

After summers of roster turnover, Barnes’ four-year deal will keep him in Dallas for the long term. He was impressed by Dallas’ 42-40 record last season, during a year filled with injuries and in the wake of 2015’s DeAndre Jordan debacle. The prospect of now being a core piece excites him.

"Coming from where I’ve been the last four years, you see the importance of being with a team for years, building, growing," Barnes said. "I’m excited to be playing alongside Wes hopefully for a long time, and hopefully playing alongside some of these guys for a long time."

Barnes’ old Golden State teammate, center Andrew Bogut, will join him in Dallas. This wasn’t Dallas’ Plan A, but Barnes said, like last year, this team can compete.

"We’re not necessarily the team that’s favored to win or we’re not picked to finish high in the West this year," Barnes said. "But I think that gives us the edge that we’re able to do our work, we’re able to get better and I think we’ll surprise some people.”

***

There’s a few things Barnes wants to do before the Games end. Meet Michael Phelps, watch a few events and visit the Olympic Village are on the list.

Above all, he’s picking the brains of everyone on Team USA in preparation for his move to Dallas, and his new role.

But a gold medal still remains at the top of the to-do list.

As the team stretched at its second official practice on Brazilian soil on Friday, a day before its 119-62 win over China, the familiar face of Klay Thompson stood next to Barnes. These Games represent a last ride for Barnes, Thompson and Draymond Green.

Just a few people down from Barnes and Thompson was Durant — the man who replaced Barnes.

"There’s a lot of different dynamics in play here, just in terms of what goes on in the regular season," Barnes said. "But this is an opportunity where we represent our country, and that takes precedent over anything that goes on in the season."

But not only are the Olympics Barnes’ last ride with old teammates, it’s his last ride as a roleplayer. Come October, Barnes is going to have more cameras, lights and reporters in his face.

"It’s a lot more responsibility," Barnes said. "(It’s not just) having that bad shooting, having the game not necessarily won or lost on me, but being a larger part of that as opposed to what I’d been in a much more reserved role."