The inclusion of an athletic, 27-year-old former NBA champion today bolstered a free agent class that has downshifted from amazing to much less so over the past few weeks.
Harrison Barnes, who was dealt to the Kings in February, opted out of the final year of his $25.1 million contract in Sacramento today, making him an unrestricted free agent. He’s yet another wing available in a market that lost some of its premier pieces since the Finals, with uncertainty around catastrophic injuries to Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant, the likely matrimony between Kyrie Irving and the Nets, and the completion of the Pelicans’ fleecing of the Lakers for Anthony Davis.
Could the Clippers be in play for Barnes?
In many ways it would make sense. Imagine finding a willing partner to deal Danilo Gallinari’s expiring $22.6 million contract. Coming off a relatively healthy, near All-Star level season, Gallinari has as much value today as at any point during his Clippers’ tenure. He shot 43.3 percent from 3-point range, the best since his 20-year-old rookie season. He was a 90 percent foul shooter, averaging six attempts per game. And he averaged nearly 20 points, 6 boards and 3 assists, while helping lead the upstart Clippers to the No. 8 seed in a grueling Western Conference.
So, why would Barnes, who shot 39.5 percent from 3, and averaged fewer points, rebounds and assists than Gallinari last season, serve as an upgrade?
Well, Barnes is three years younger, and has more defensive versatility. While Gallinari often gets credit for “trying,” Barnes gets credit for actual stops. He’s also someone who can slot in at three positions: small ball 4, small forward, or big shooting guard. You don’t lose much as a floor spacer as long as it’s not Game 7 of the 2016 Finals, and, wait for it, he would be an outstanding pairing with a certain priority free agent also on the Clippers’ radar. (Ahem).
Now, without inciting blasphemous rage, what if that certain free agent stays in Toronto? The scenario, while unlikely, remains a possibility. Barnes would still be a suitable addition as a secondary scorer alongside Lou Williams. If we learned anything from the Finals, it’s that depth up to the seventh or eighth man is incredibly important, but when push comes to shove, there is a necessity for players who are capable of getting buckets and not having their driving ability stifled by Serge Ibaka because you’re a 6-foot-2 lightweight. Barnes, with or without another free agent, would help alleviate that for the Clippers.
Of course, Barnes could have opted out to simply re-up for four years and more long-term money from Sacramento. But that’s why these next three weeks are going to be so fun. The possibilities are boundless, and the Clippers will be at the center of it all.
Note: I have always liked Harrison Barnes. When he was Mr. Basketball in Iowa and went to UNC, I was convinced he would be a top 3 pick. When he slid to the Warriors, it was incredibly irritating, but even covering the Warriors in the 2013-14 playoffs, I thought he was thoughtful and still had potential as a future All-Star. And, yes, I didn’t waver even when during an oncourt skirmish, he shoved Chris Paul in the back, and the following exchange took place:
CP: “You went to my camps. I thought we were boys?”
HB: “Not anymore.”
The point is, please forgive my bias. I have my investment in Harrison Barnes stock. I’m still not selling.