Before the season, if one were to power rank the Dallas Mavericks players, where would J.J. Barea have ended up on the list? Looking back on the 2018-19 season, it’s clear that Barea of all players was perhaps the most important Maverick not named Luka Doncic.
In 38 games with Barea on the active roster, the Mavericks were 20-18. Without Barea, Dallas won just 13 games all season. That simple line, while not all encompassing, broadcasts the value Barea brought from the Maverick bench this season. A season-ending Achilles tear against the Minnesota Timberwolves brought Barea’s season to an abrupt end in early January.
Barea’s per game numbers were within line of his last few seasons, down slightly to 10.9 points, 2.5 rebounds, 5.6 assists while shooting just under 42 percent from the field. However, his decline in stats can be linked directly to his minutes per game, which the coaching staff held to under 20 per game for the first time since the 2014-15 season.
Early season bench line-ups, led by Barea and featuring Devin Harris, Dwight Powell, Maxi Kleber and Dorian Finney-Smith, destroyed teams and at one point led the league outscoring opposing teams by 20 points per 100 possessions. Barea featured in the only Dallas line-up this season with 100 or more minutes with a double digit net rating (13.8). He knew how to run the offense.
Barea is not under contract following the 2018-19 season. It’s largely believed the Mavericks would like him back in some capacity, despite his injury. It’s safe to pencil in Barea on the 2019-20 roster unless something were to drastically change on the medical side of things between now and free agency.
By July, Barea will be 35 years old and still rehabbing from an Achilles tear. The only two injury comparison points in NBA history for Barea are Kobe Bryant, who tore his at age 34, and Chauncey Billups, who tore his at age 35. Despite the narrative, the injury crippled Bryant was having an amazing season prior to the tear. He willed himself through 100 more games before retiring. Billups played just 41 more games over the next two seasons before hanging it up.
This is a long way of saying that J.J. Barea should retire. He’s one of the best success stories in terms of both undrafted players and players under six feet tall in league history. He’s played 13 seasons and was a key cog in a NBA championship playoff team. He’s made north of $36 million in his career.
He has nothing left to prove and the Mavericks have a hard time letting go. The likely re-signing of Barea puts everyone in an awkward position, unless his role is more of mentor than actual player. The late season ascension of Jalen Brunson paired with the hopeful addition of another significant playmaking ball handler in the off-season should mean limited guard minutes are available.
In the end, Barea taking up a position on the end of the bench isn’t the biggest of deals. He has spent 608 games in a Maverick uniform, good enough for seventh all-time in the Dallas record books. If his basketball worth ethic translates to his rehab he may have enough for a few moments next season. But hopefully, he’ll mainly be a transitional reminder of the teams of the past as the Mavericks build towards a better future.