DALLAS -- This will be the first time J.J. Barea plays at the American Airlines Center since Game 5 of the 2011 Finals.
If it were up to him, he'd still have a stall in the home locker room here.
That's not how it happened, however. Barea, who has been injured during the Timberwolves two previous trips to Dallas since his departure from the Mavs, didn't get a multiyear contract offer from the then-defending champions, like the rest of the Mavs' post-lockout free agents. He wasn't willing to make the immense financial sacrifice of turning down Minnesota's four-year, $19 million offer to take an offer from the Mavs that looked tiny by comparison.
No matter how badly Barea wanted to stay with the Mavs, he felt he had to leave, a situation he admits bothers him to this day.
"No question, that crosses my mind every day," said Barea, who is averaging 10.9 points and 4.5 assists this season. "What could have been? We're never going to find out. But it's just something that you've got to live with and let it go."
Mavs owner Mark Cuban has nothing but appreciation for Barea, saying he feels a "special connection" with the fiery, undersized point guard he signed as an undrafted free agent out of "Never, Never Land," aka Northeastern University. Barea spent his first five NBA seasons with the Mavs, carving out a significant role in the last few seasons.
"I know he wanted to stay," Cuban said. "Look, I'm disappointed, too. I didn't make up the rules. I'm just trying to figure them out."
Barea, who still keeps in touch with several of his former teammates and members of the Mavs' support staff, will surely be greeted with a warm welcome.
He's also sure to hear a familiar line from Cuban, who will be in his usual baseline seat: "Who let that baby on the court?!"
That was a Clipper Darrell classic, shouted in a dead-quiet Staples Center during a Mavs rout of the Clippers. It became one of the favorite punchlines for the 2010-11 title team.
When the Timberwolves came to town last season on the night of the Mavs' ring ceremony, a high chair was waiting for Barea in the visitors' locker room, a gift for the son his former Miss Universe girlfriend soon delivered, with a little double meaning.
A Timberwolves uniform was waiting on Barea this time, and he readily admitted he has a little extra motivation.
"You know he'll be throwing up 3s and trying to take over the game," Cuban said. "J.J.'s a great guy. He's just a really, really good guy. Other than when he plays us, you always want him to do well."