The Harrison Barnes-Andre Iguodala Conundrum
With the Golden State Warriors clinging to a four-point lead, they had simply come too far to lose. A 3-1 deficit in the best-of-seven playoff series against the San Antonio Spurs and a Game 5 on the road would have surely spelled a five-game defeat.
Mark Jackson’s team had come too far to die without a fight. No, the 19,596 fans in attendance deserved a victory, and with the hobbled Stephen Curry limited by a sore ankle that required an anti-inflammatory injection on this May 12th morning, Harrison Barnes played the game of his life and ensured that the Warriors would not go meekly into the night.
In the end, all he seemed to earn was a demotion.
His 26 points came on a less-than-stellar 9-for-26 shooting night, but with the season hanging in the balance, coach Mark Jackson called Barnes’ number with just over two minutes remaining in overtime.
Barnes received the pass on the left-wing, behind the three-point line. Manu Ginobili was the defender. Barnes faked left and drove right, stopping on a dime at the elbow.
Magically, Ginobili’s 36-year-old legs mustered the strength to rise and contest the shot, but Barnes, ever so cool, drilled it. The Spurs would never cut the deficit to less than six points and the Warriors went on to tie the series at two games after winning Game 4, 97-87.
Even as the Warriors lost Game 5 and Game 6 to the eventual Western Conference Champion Spurs, the excitement over Barnes’ potential increased furiously.
Unlike most other rookies, he increased his output across the board once the playoffs began. From 25 minutes per game during the regular season to 38 in the playoffs, Barnes made the most of his minutes. He obliterated the 9.2 points and 4.1 rebounds he averaged during the regular season by scoring 16.1 points and pulling down 6.4 rebounds per game in the postseason.
And again, all he seemed to earn was a demotion, because after starting 81 games for the Warriors last season, Barnes is expected to be sent to the bench in favor of newly acquired Andre Iguodala.
As a team, the Warriors won 47 games last season and lost in the second round of the playoffs. Obviously, as a team, there was much room for improvement and necessary growth. For a short while, David Lee’s name was mentioned in some passing trade rumors and the Warriors attempted to make a play for Dwight Howard. Obviously, nothing happened on either front.
Iguodala, though, had interest in joining Golden State and fills a major need for the young Warriors. Aside from being a plus-defender on the perimeter, Iguodala is one of the standouts from the underrated 2004 draft class that includes Howard, Luol Deng, Al Jefferson, Josh Smith and Kevin Martin. He is one of the best all-around players to enter the league over the past 10 years and is exactly the type of player that a team looking to go the next level should acquire if the opportunity to do so presents itself.
As a team, the acquisition makes a lot of sense.
But although there is no “I” in team, there certainly is one in “Harrison,” and his relegation to the bench is unfortunate, to say the least.
Thus far, Barnes has said the correct things and has intimated that coming off of the bench would not be a problem for him. Even if true, though, the fine-line that Jackson and the Warriors must walk is the one that separates improving one’s team in the present versus stunting the growth and the development of young and promising players.
Last season, Barnes spent a fair amount of time playing power forward. Standing at 6’8, he has the requisite size to play the position, especially in today’s NBA, where “small-ball” is becoming prevalent. At least in spurts, Barnes will probably share the floor with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Iguodala, while either Andrew Bogut or David Lee fill in as the center.
At other times, Jackson may be fine with playing Iguodala at shooting guard with a bigger frontline featuring Barnes at small forward and Lee and Bogut at power forward and center, respectively. With the versatility of both Iguodala and Barnes, there are options.
Again, as a team, the addition of Iguodala brings the Warriors closer to contending for the Western Conference crown, even if it means stunting the development and diminishing the minutes of both Barnes and Thompson.
Of course, in theory, both players should receive that fact with great understanding. Again, there is no “I” in “team.”
Coach Jackson’s quandary here, as a head coach with an overall dearth of experience, is keeping Barnes motivated and engaged, even though he’s a 21-year-old sophomore looking to make his name in the NBA and earn a major payday once he becomes eligible for an extension in a few years.
Less minutes means less numbers and less production. Ultimately, that means less dollars. That is not the only concern for a player like Barnes, though. It is also about heart and the fulfillment of one’s potential.
The want to fulfill one’s own potential was a major contributing factor to Kobe Bryant not forcefully and publicly demanding that the late Jerry Buss keep Shaquille O’Neal around before eventually trading the center to the Miami HEAT.
The want to fulfill one’s own potential was the major contributing factor to Tony Parker and Gregg Popovich nearly falling out when Popovich—fresh off of winning the 2003 NBA Finals—decided that his team would be better off with Jason Kidd as his point guard instead of Parker. During the 2013 NBA Finals, both Parker and Popovich were asked how history may have been different and whether or not Parker would have been regarded as one of the best European players in history if Kidd opted to leave New Jersey for a new beginning.
In Memphis, after a very impressive rookie campaign, O.J. Mayo was eventually sent to the bench in favor of Tony Allen, and although Mayo publicly said the right things and attempted to play the new role, he and Allen eventually ended up in a fist fight on a team flight. Eventually, the Grizzlies decided to not even tender Mayo an offer sheet when the time came and allowed him to head to the Dallas Mavericks in 2012 without any compensation. Mayo ended up landing a starting job in Dallas and now—as a member of the Milwaukee Bucks—is expected to start and lead a team that collectively hopes to be greater than the conceived sum of its parts.
And of course, back in the summer of 2010, when LeBron James and Chris Bosh were making their free agency visits, Derrick Rose was one of the few players that refused to watch the throne and grovel at the feet of King James. The next season, he led the Chicago Bulls to a league-best 62 wins and became the youngest MVP Award winner in NBA history. Rose, like Parker, Bryant and Mayo, wanted to fulfill his own potential.
And therein lies the quandary of a young up-and-coming NBA talent like Barnes. On one hand, Iguodala has been there and done that and can certainly aid in Barnes’ development. But at just 29 years old and with a four-year, $48 million commitment made to him, Iguodala could easily be around long enough to stunt it, as well.
When called upon in last season’s playoffs, Barnes delivered. Being relegated to the bench could have some long-lasting implications, even if Barnes says the correct things publicly.
This is certainly a situation worth watching.
Certainly, there is no “I” in team, but there is one in “Harrison.”
As we inch ever-closer to the commencement of the 2013-14 NBA season, Jackson will handle the situation as best he can. Ultimately, though, it is Barnes’ career and it will be up to him to either outplay Iguodala or, perhaps, mirror Mayo’s Memphis tenure and not even be given the option of staying after wearing out his welcome.
Young players need reps to fulfill their potential. Barnes likely will. Where exactly remains to be seen, but it is a situation that should gain clarity in the very near future.