Why did Harrison Barnes reportedly turn down the $64 million offer from the Golden State Warriors? Because he can. That's the CBA fueled by TV money, a reality that's no longer just some abstract idea out on the horizon. We're finally here, immersed in a world where Tristan Thompson is more decisive about turning down $80 million than he is on which arm to shoot with. And while we can't be sure which hand Thompson uses to sign that eventual contract, we can surmise the signing nets him more money than LeBron James got on his post-rookie deal. The money has suddenly flooded in, unmooring well-grounded assumptions of who's worth what and why.
So yes, when 2016 free agency hits, Barnes can likely get a $20 million per year contract somewhere -- provided he remains ambulatory and sentient. It won't matter how frustrating his flaws are. Even in Barnes' nightmare scenario in which he completely falls apart and loses his starting gig to the reigning Finals MVP, Andre Iguodala, his fall will be broken by soft stacks of cash. Some team out there will have money to burn on a young, athletic wing. Remember that most franchises can't even consider competing for the superstar free agents. This makes the 23-year-old Barnes a might-as-well proposition for multiple general managers.
The Warriors will seek to keep their house orderly during the inundation. This isn't a team that embraces the risks and unpredictability that come with restricted free agency. They tend to favor cost certainty and building from within. That augurs well for a deal before the Oct. 31 deadline.
So why would Barnes sign a below-market deal with Golden State? Aside from that whole championship thing, there's the security -- not just financial security. It's only recently that Golden State seems like a stable place for Barnes. Over the years, there's been some guilt in Warriors HQ regarding how his early career was handled. The Mark Jackson era, successful as it was, turned toxic for Barnes. The internecine coaching staff feud alienated him from Jackson, his shot was reworked to poor effect and he was asked to subsist on inefficient isolation post-ups. The nadir came in March of 2014, when he shot 29.6 percent from the field and averaged six points in 25.8 minutes. In short, he looked like a high draft pick turned irredeemable bust.
The Jackson staff had a laissez-faire approach that helped Stephen Curry find his inner superstar, but that approach failed other players who lacked Curry's creative genius. Enter Steve Kerr, whose arrival pulled Barnes from the brink. He was trusted with a starting role, but this time without all those post-ups to nowhere (according to Synergy Sports, Barnes saw roughly one-third as many post-ups last season as he saw in Jackson's final year). The new regime also didn't fret about Barnes' shooting form, preferring to rely on whatever felt natural for the young player. The increased ball movement and reclaimed shot helped Barnes hit left corner 3s at a better rate than anyone in the NBA last season. Golden State also went small more frequently, leveraging Barnes' athleticism in space.
The improved shot was the most obvious aspect of Barnes' resurrection, but it's not what Golden State coaches gushed about this offseason. To hear them tell it, Barnes' defining feature, the aspect of his game they'll most miss if he ever leaves, is his strength.
Barnes, as Kerr says, is "deceptively strong." He has perhaps honed it over the course of many practice sessions defending assistant coach Luke Walton. Think back to the harrowing-till-it-wasn't series against the Memphis Grizzlies, when he was asked to guard the languid mountain that is Zach Randolph. In theory, ZBo's offense should render a wing more flattened than a penguin flipper. In Barnes, though, Randolph found resistance. After the Warriors ended the series in Game 6, Barnes gave an unusually impassioned interview, punching his hand while speaking with force. "Throughout Game 3, we're just getting punched in the face [smacks hand], punched in the face [smacks hand]. I mean, you either gonna lay down or you're gonna respond."
This is why the Warriors feel they need a player who, at first glance, might seem redundant on this roster of rangy wing-sized guys. If they want to downsize for stretches with Draymond Green at center, they'll need a wing who can handle larger opponents. From Golden State's perspective, Barnes passed that test.
How much that's specifically worth to the Warriors remains to be seen. According to the team, talks with Barnes' new agent, Jeff Schwartz, aren't in full gear yet. That Barnes fired his now ex-agent Jeff Wechsler isn't necessarily surprising in this particular, turbulent world. Schwartz, he of a stacked and swelling client list, has a "bigger is better" approach.
The Warriors, meanwhile, are trying to flip that script on the court with their small, versatile lineups. Barnes is important to that mission, possibly vital if he continues to improve. As an aside, the Warriors (management and coaches) have consistently been more optimistic about his prospects than I have been. Where I see flaws, they see potential. I gripe about his miscommunications on defensive switches, they praise his focused one-on-one defense. I lament his lack of handle, they note that he recently adopted a couple of Curry's ball-handling drills. I see a player benefiting from a small role, they see someone who might flourish if asked to be a big-time scorer.
Barnes still makes an insane amount of money regardless of which perspective you buy. He has more leverage than what you might assume for a guy averaging 10 points a game. Thanks to the charging cash tsunami, and thanks to his defense against power forwards, Barnes' position in these negotiations is, as Kerr might say, "deceptively strong."