Today’s news that JJ Barea’s contract will be bought out is not surprising, but it is also not insignificant.
Barea struggled last season and played his worst basketball in years. Not only were his numbers down, but his style of play was extra disruptive. And for J.J. Barea, that is saying something.
Slotted next to the passive and overwhelmed Alexey Shved, J.J. took ball dominance to levels previously unheard of. To watch the six-foot combo guard (presumably measured in platform shoes) attack five waiting defenders all by himself was sort of like witnessing a train wreck while at the same time listening to nails on a chalkboard.
Well… except for the times that it actually worked, and he scored. This didn’t happen enough to carry the Wolves lackluster second unit, but when J.J. would herk and jerk his way into the lane, intentionally bounce off of a power forward’s body, and drop in a floater off the glass, fans would just shake their heads. Partially in wonder and amazement, and partially in resignation that by succeeding now he would only be encouraged to try it again next time.
Last season I put together an amateurish photoshop that I felt captured the J.J. Barea Experience, for fans watching him check into the game and start doing his thing:
Consider that in his first two seasons with the Wolves he posted Player Efficiency Ratings of over 14, reflective of league-average efficiency. Oh, and don’t forget that right before coming to Minnesota he was contributing significantly to his team’s NBA Finals victory over LeBron, Wade, and Bosh.
Yes, that actually happened.
In the right role — playing off the ball and surrounded by other good scorers — JJ can help a team win.
Barea has succeeded in basketball with a supreme competitive edge and toughness that — too often, last year — can boil over and melt down. His refusal to back down to anyone stood out on a Wolves team that lacks traditional “tough guys.” The Wolves don’t have a Matt Barnes or a Chris Paul. They certainly don’t have Kobe. So when Barea was ejected against the same Miami Heat that he beat for his title ring, and then took to calling Ray Allen a F****NG P**SY, I must say that I became more of a fan.
I previewed last season with a Swingers-based theme that the Wolves needed to be tougher and, maybe, a little bit less likeable. Ricky Rubio is very competitive, but never confronts opponents. Neither does Pekovic, despite his enforcer’s physique. Don’t even get me started on Kevin Martin.
J.J. Barea had no problems assuming an instigator role, and for that, he will be missed. In the future, somebody else will need to fill this void if the Wolves are ever going to get the upper hand over Western Conference competition.
For the Wolves though, this was a no-brainer. For one thing, it brings their roster size down to 15, and allows them to keep Glenn Robinson III. The long and athletic rookie was otherwise in danger of being cut.
More importantly, the Wolves have a promising set of young players who will log minutes with that second unit that JJ used to commandeer. They could not afford to have potential growth stunted by JJ’s antics with the basketball in his hands. We have already seen Anthony Bennett form productive chemistry with Mo Williams, in basic screen-and-roll and pick-and-pop sets. That would never happen with Barea. And if the Wolves suffer point guard injuries, as some fans fear with the third-stringer now gone, they’ll either have to throw LaVine out there or sign a replacement. It won’t be the end of the world. That’s why 10-day contracts exist.
Barea reportedly might return to Dallas, where he won that championship in 2011. If not in Dallas, it’ll be somewhere else. His career is not over and we haven’t seen the last of him. But next time he comes to Target Center and checks into the game, we can just sit back and enjoy without worry of what’s about to happen next.