Barea: The Finals’ Big Winner?
The Dallas Mavericks won the 2010-11 NBA Championship and Dirk Nowitzki won the Finals MVP, but no one may have won more this past postseason than free agent to be J.J. Barea. The Puerto Rican born Barea was an afterthought for much of the season, and if not for injuries to Roddy Beaubois and Caron Butler, he may not have seen the floor during the Finals.
As it stands, Barea is coming off two of the best games of his career and has an opportunity to cash in; he becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1st.
“I think this was my best year,” Barea said to the media during his exit interview. “Every year I get better. I was more consistent this year and I was on the best team in the world and I was a big part of it so that proves a lot.”
While Barea has been good all season long, his breakout really started in the second round of the playoffs against the Los Angeles Lakers. He became an unstoppable force off the bench for the Mavericks averaging over 11 points per game, 5.5 assists, and shot 50% from the field.
He was so dominant during the Lakers series, they tried to slow him down with everyone from Derek Fisher to Kobe Bryant. The result was a Mavericks sweep that saw Barea have a career night in game four going 9 of 14 from the field for 22 points and eight assists.
“When you have good people that care and love the game you know they are going to keep working and find ways to get better,” Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle told the media during his season ending interview. “Where (Barea’s) game has gotten better, is he’s always been a guy that can attack and score, his overall understanding of our team and how to facilitate and how to put our guys in a position to succeed around him has made him a more complete player.”
Carlisle goes on to say, “He’s a fan favorite for obvious reasons, they love him because he’s a little guy that plays with a big heart, but you don’t win championships unless you have guys like him that will step up in big situations and deliver.”
While Barea appreciates the praise, he is quick to point out he wasn’t the only player stepping up during the season and the playoffs.
“It’s a team effort, everybody was good. Number 1 to Dominique Jones the rookie. Everybody was awesome, the locker room was great all year and it doesn’t matter if you were starting or don’t play for a week, people were staying ready and we showed it.”
After the first three games of the Finals, it looked as though the magic may have worn off. Barea was struggling from the floor shooting only 22% from the field and averaging just over four points per game and less than two assists.
That’s when Carlisle made the risky decision to move Barea into the starting lineup; a decision that helped changed the series and swung momentum into the Mavs favor.
“The guy is dating miss universe, don’t you think he deserves to start,” Carlisle joked. “It’s a situation that we had been through before, we needed more playmaking, more defensive energy on the ball; Miami was a tough team to score on.
“Before I put him in the starting lineup he had not shot the ball well, but he had played the game well. It wasn’t a hard decision.”
Barea responded playing arguably his best basketball of the postseason. Over the last three games of the Finals, he averaged just over 13 points a game, just under 5 assists, and shot 50% from the field and from behind the arc.
“Barea is a fighter, he’s a lot about what this team stands for, he’s persistent, he keeps coming at you and he’s got incredibly big balls,” Carlisle said with all seriousness.
Now that the season is over, the Mavs will have to focus on whether or not they can keep their core together. Barea isn’t the only free agent; Caron Butler, Tyson Chandler, DeShawn Stevenson, Peja Stojakovic, and Brian Cardinal are all free agents as well.
Starting point guard Jason Kidd hopes to start next season with the same team, but he trusts his owner to do what is in the best interest of the Mavs.
“Management, (Mark) Cuban he is never going to sit still. He is always going to try and make his team competitive and find a way to defend the title,” Kidd said. “We have a great group of guys, we might be a little bit older but you know we would love to have the same team back to defend that title.”
“He proved that he belongs,” added Jason Terry. “He’s going to be a player in this team for a long time. Without JJ Barea, I don’t think we are champions today. He earned it. He earned every dollar he’s going to get. You never know where he might be, but you just have to believe he’ll be back. And we do have the same agent (smiling), so I gotta believe he’ll be back with us next year.”
Barea may be the most difficult free agent for the Mavs to bring back. Not only is he going to command a large payday after his breakout in the postseason, but also he has proven he is talented enough to be a starter in the NBA. For Barea to return to the Mavs, he’ll have to be willing to return to a bench role.
“I’m not going to lie, I like my role, I like the role I have on this team. Bring the energy from the bench.
“I would like some day to be the starter, but the situation I have here in Dallas, with the coach I have, my teammates I have, I don’t want to change it, so hopefully I’ll be here again next year.”
Barea’s decision this summer is going to affect not just his bank account, but the city of Dallas as well.
“That’s a problem I wanted this summer, it’s just a business, but I love Puerto Rico and then I love Dallas. This city has been special to me and everything about this city, so hopefully Mark and Donnie (Nelson) and myself and my family we will do everything we can to stay here in Dallas, but we’ll see what happens.”
Barea isn’t letting his uncertain future affect his current mood. In fact, he is hoping to take the Finals party on the road to Puerto Rico.
“I’m trying to get everybody a parade in Puerto Rico after the one in Dallas. It’s going to be soon, it might be this weekend when I get down there, but there is going to be a parade so I’m trying to get everybody to go with me. I’m taking the trophy for sure.”
Barea went on to say, “You guys don’t even know how crazy Puerto Rico is going right now…it’s been a dream come true.”
With parties on the horizon and free agency right around the corner, Barea’s summer is going to pack full, but no matter where his travels take him; he’ll never forget this team and the moments they shared together.
“Everything about this team will stick with me forever, every moment, every time we spent in the locker room. This team is special and we proved it and it was amazing.
“I’m just proud of us. I’m happy for the city and for the fans that were amazing here in Dallas. Since I got here five years ago they’ve been amazing to me so I hope they enjoy it and hopefully it’s a really good summer.”
A really good summer for the city of Dallas and for Mavericks fans would be hearing the news that J.J. Barea re-signed with the defending World Champions.