One might argue that J.J. Barea never really left the Dallas Mavericks, at least not emotionally. It would be difficult to blame him. After all, as an integral part of the Mavs’ drive to the NBA title in 2011, he never really wanted to leave.
So when the Minnesota Timberwolves started discussing with Barea the idea of buying out the final year of his contract this summer, Barea’s mind immediately gravitated toward returning to his old team.
“It was definitely one of my first options to try and come back here,” Barea said after the Mavs throttled the Philadelphia 76ers last Thursday night. “It’s where I played my best and where my family and I feel the best.”
“It’s where I played my best and where my family and I feel the best,” Barea says of Dallas.
The only thing he needed was a place on the roster, and an injury to Raymond Felton took care of that, as the Mavs needed depth at guard. Just before the beginning of the regular season the Mavs brought in Barea on a one-year contract.
Barea’s roots in Dallas run deeper than just playing his first five seasons with Dallas. He’s not a native Texan, of course. He was born and raised in Puerto Rico. But as a college player trying to make a name for himself, he once spent some time in Dallas with the Puerto Rican national team as part of the Global Games in 2004. Back then Barea led the tournament in scoring, and his team had a practice at the American Airlines Center.
“We were all like, ‘We’ll do whatever it take to get to the NBA,’” Barea said of his teammates. “We had a great time. I remembered everything from the locker room the day I came back [to Dallas].”
Barea found his way back as a lightly regarded undrafted free agent, and five years later, he had dribbled his way in to Mavs fans’ hearts, thanks to an incredible postseason run that ended with a NBA finals victory over the Miami Heat.
So why didn’t he stay? Well, that’s not his fault. He was a sacrifice, much like another former Mav who is now back in town in the person of center Tyson Chandler. Mavs owner Mark Cuban chose not to re-sign either in the name of keeping the team’s “powder dry” as they tried to assemble superstar talent around future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki.
That did not materialize in the way that Cuban intended, but one could argue that three years later, the risk has paid off.
Mark Cuban and the Mavs get Barea back for a pittance of what they would have had to pay him in the euphoria of that 2011 championship.
Why? Well, Monta Ellis and Chandler Parsons are capable scorers who can take heat off Nowitzki. Chandler is back on the final year of the four-year contract that he signed with the New York Knicks, meaning Cuban isn’t on the hook for big money beyond this season. Barea, meanwhile, went to Minnesota, where he got his money (four years, $19 million). Cuban and the Mavs get Barea back for a pittance of what they would have had to pay him in the euphoria of that 2011 championship.
Still, it’s a bit hard to believe he’s back.
“I’m still processing it. But I feel great,” Barea said. “This is like home. I feel comfortable here. I still have a ways to go, but I feel good.”
There is comfort in this organization, Barea says. The owner, the general manager, the head coach and the superstar forward haven’t changed. Neither have the fans. What has changed is the offense — there are some tweaks Barea must learn — and his locker. Barea’s locker is now located right by the entrance to the locker room. Back in the day it was clear across the locker room. Plus, Ellis has Barea’s old No. 11, so he now wears No. 5.
Barea is still a sparkplug, though. Against Philadelphia on Thursday night Barea dished out 11 assists. Two nights later he cranked out 14 points and five assists against his “new” old team, the Timberwolves.
When Raymond Felton returns to the lineup, Barea’s playing time will likely be recalibrated. But, for now, he’s happy to serve in a rotation with Devin Harris and Jameer Nelson at point guard.
And he’s happy to be home.
“Well I always said the five years I was here, nothing was going to be better than the time I was here,” Barea said. “[Dallas] was always my first option. Even if I hadn’t come back it was always going to be the best five years of my NBA career.”