The Mavericks have officially resigned J.J. Barea to a 1-year deal worth the veteran’s minimum. If you’re looking at this acquisition from a logistical standpoint, the signing doesn’t make a lot of sense. Then again, if you are looking at only the logistics, you probably do not follow the Mavericks very closely.
Dallas now has 16 players under contract, with only 15 roster spots. Excluding Barea, they have 6 guards under contract, all of which are at least 8 years younger than the 36 year-old vet. This creates a situation where one player is not going to cross I-35 from the practice facility to the American Airlines Center.
Last season, J.J. Barea averaged 7.7 points and 3.9 assists in 29 appearances. He averaged under 16 minutes a game during his limited time, making him, at least from a surface level numbers standpoint, a formidable emergency backup. Having played the 5th most games in Dallas Mavericks history, Barea is a seasoned veteran with NBA Finals experience. This, along with the relationship he has with the other players and the organization, had more to do with the signing than his skills on the court.
There are a lot of questions that come with J.J. Barea’s return next season. How good can he still be? Will he see any consistent minutes at all? How many of Luka Doncic’s Instagram stories will he be in? These are all legitimate concerns, but far and away the biggest question with the veteran point guard is the question of whether or not he will be on the roster come December 23rd when Dallas opens the season in Phoenix.
As previously mentioned, the Mavericks have 16 players signed with 15 roster spots available to fill. This means that one player will walk the plank and J.J. Barea could be the one to do it. Dallas has an abundance of guards (7 including Barea), and with Kristaps Porzingis missing the beginning of the season due to injury, it is unlikely the Mavs want to give up size and depth in the frontcourt. This improves the probability of a guard getting the boot, and, more specifically, Barea being the one to take the fall.
Best Case Scenario
The Dallas Mavericks decide to cut J.J. Barea after training camp and transition him into a coaching role, allowing him to mentor the younger players while also allowing the Mavericks to use his roster spot on another player.
Dallas is one of the youngest teams in the league, with the average age of the players under contract being just under 27 years old. When you have so many young guys on a team with championship aspirations, guidance and leadership is necessary to help steer the ship away from the storm. He is one of the select number of players in the league that has won an NBA title, and the experience and knowledge J.J. can bring to the team is not something to take for granted. By waiving him after training camp, Barea gets his money, the rookies get help through their first pre-season workouts, and the Mavericks get to keep a young piece like Tyrell Terry or Jalen Brunson that they can continue to develop.
And the benefits of cutting J.J. Barea do not end there.
There is no question that culture and chemistry matter when looking at the success of a team, and Barea is a key factor for both in Dallas. He, in a lot of ways, embodies the Maverick culture. The Mavericks value loyalty; J.J. has played 11 out of his 14 professional seasons in Dallas. They expect you to work hard; Barea went from undrafted to a starter in the NBA finals. He is a guy that brings the team together and is beloved by all his teammates. If you don’t believe me, you haven’t watched the bench or checked Luka’s social media. By giving him a coaching role in some capacity, he will be able to contribute to the team’s success without wasting a jersey and a row in the box score.
Worst Case Scenario
The Mavericks decide to keep him on the roster and cut one of their young players. That player then gets picked up elsewhere and has a breakout season while Barea continues to regress. COVID-19 plagues Dallas, resulting in Barea having to play big minutes off the bench or possibly even start.
In a season where roster spots, and specifically end of the bench guys, matter the most they ever have, missing out on a solid piece for the bottom of your rotation could prove to be a fatal blow. With players being liable to miss games on a nightly basis due to the new safety protocols, it is more important than ever to have 15 guys that can play NBA minutes. This isn’t to say that Barea can’t, but at 5’10” (maybe) and 36 years old, he is not an ideal player in a league dominated by young talent and Lebron James. As the Mavs look to the future (and by the future I mean the playoffs this year and beyond), missing out on a solid role player next to Luka and Kristaps could come back to haunt them.
Dallas’ offseason emphasis was defense, and if J.J. Barea did end up making the final roster and logged significant minutes, their woes on that end of the floor would likely continue. If Barea is playing consistently, this means that one or more guards are missing time, which includes Josh Richardson, who was a key defensive acquisition this offseason. In 2019-20, J.J. Barea had a Defensive Rating of 116 and a Box Plus/Minus of -1.4. This means he was allowing 116 points per 100 possessions and the team was 1.4 points worse per 100 possessions with him on the floor. To put it simply, he was not making the team better and especially not on the defensive side of the ball.