Barea: 'A lot easier to keep me' this time

DALLAS – J.J. Barea knows all too well that strong mutual interest in his return doesn’t guarantee that he’ll be back with the Dallas Mavericks next season.

He’s lived that experience once, leaving for Minnesota after the lockout when he would have loved to stay in Dallas to defend a championship he played a key role in winning.

“This time, I think it’ll be a lot easier to keep me around,” Barea said last week.

In other words, the Mavs won’t have to come close to matching a four-year, $18 million deal, like the one Barea signed the last time he tested free agency. But that doesn’t mean Barea, a productive backup guard and part-time starter at 30, would be willing to settle for the veteran’s minimum.

A source said Barea is hoping to sign a two- or three-year deal that would pay an annual salary in the $3 million range.

The Mavs will undoubtedly have a hometown advantage in the Barea contract discussions this summer. He doesn’t attempt to deny that.

“I want to [come back], and hopefully this time we make it work,” Barea said. “I had a lot of fun this year. I enjoyed being back. It feels like home for me here in Dallas, so hopefully I can come back and finish my career here for the next couple years.”

The Mavs won’t necessarily have to win a bidding war to keep Barea. They just can’t assume he’ll take the minimum if there are multi-year offers for significantly more money on the table.

Barea has a little bit of leverage, too, considering Dallas’ situation at point guard after the Rajon Rondo trade blew up like a bad chemistry experiment.

The Mavs, who have other priorities in free agency, might have to fill the point guard position with a relatively inexpensive committee next season. Devin Harris ($4.05 million) and Raymond Felton (player option for $3.95 million) are under contract, but there’s a clear need for more competent depth.

The Mavs know they can count on Barea to run the offense the way coach Rick Carlisle wants. He was a quality role player this season, averaging 17.7 minutes per game, with the Mavs going 7-5 with him as a starter, including the playoffs. The Mavs averaged 109.4 points per 100 possessions with Barea on the floor, compared to 105.9 when he wasn’t. The only point guards in the league with better assist-to-turnover ratios were Chris Paul and Ty Lawson.

“I think it’s a good fit for me and for them,” Barea said. “I think I’ll be able to help the team, especially with coach and this system.”

The Mavs agree. It’s just a matter of making the money work this time around.