The 2011 playoffs served as a breakout party for the diminutive Puerto Rican, particularly so in the second round as he carved up the Los Angeles Lakers' stationary defense before nearly being chopped in half by an Andrew Bynum body blow in the final moments of the surprising sweep. Sure, the nation found out about J.J. at that point, but Mavs coach Rick Carlisle will tell you that Barea's been integral for three years now.
Barea is perfectly suited for the Mavs' flow offense and halfcourt pick-and-roll game. Until Rodrigue Beaubois shows signs of a return to his rookie form, Barea is the lone guard on the team capable of consistently breaking down a defense, driving and scoring or dishing, which he has become much more proficient. Carlisle successfully used Barea, barely 5-foot-10, if that, as the starting two-guard for goodness sake in the final three games of the NBA Finals.
His heart and effort are unquestioned and his defense is passable enough in a team setting and is accentuated by his ability to agitate opponents into launching forearms into his chest.
Barea's return will be key in aiding Carlisle to reduce Jason Kidd's minutes. He averaged 33.2 minutes in 80 games last season. In a compressed, 66-game schedule, it will be even more important to keep the 38-year-old as fresh as possible late in the season. Point-guard replacements aren't plentiful on the free-agent market and certainly no one can come in with the Barea's knowledge and familiarity of the system, important will little time to prepare for the season.
He earned $1.8 million last season and Barea has indicated he will accept a homecourt discount. He's also said that the promise of a starting job will not solely lure him somewhere else. How high will offers go? Would a team throw a full, $5 million mid-level exception at him? That would seem a stretch.
The teams most mentioned as Barea hunters in the aftermath of the NBA Finals were the freshly wounded Miami Heat and Lakers. The Heat will want to use their full MLE on a center. The Lakers still have backup Steve Blake under contract for three seasons at $12 million and are significantly over the luxury tax threshold.
Barea has played himself into a profitable position. He will have suitors. He wants to stay and the Mavs want him back. That should work out a suitable deal for both.