Golden State Warriors

Bringing back Harrison Barnes would be awkward for Warriors

It’s done. The meeting the Warriors have been preparing to absolutely nail for the last few years concluded at some point early this afternoon in the Hamptons. And the most interesting note from this all-important conference with Kevin Durant — since the only other thing we heard was that it went “very well,” which in free agency parlance is the same as saying a surgery that occurred six hours ago was “successful” — was Andre Iguodala’s presence.

Oklahoma City is still the overwhelming favorite to employ Durant, for the 2016-17 season at the very least. Some reporters say the teams having these meetings know this, and are recruiting Durant with an eye toward a year from now when he opts out and the cap grows even larger. That’s clearly not Iguodala’s goal, since he’s only under contract with Golden State for just one more season. Then again, Marcus Thompson noted (jokingly, I think) that Iguodala could’ve made the trip with 18 or 36 holes on his mind.

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Bracing for the inevitable

Other than Durant, this entire free agency period is overblown. Sure, there’s crazy money out there, but much of it is being spent on Chandler Parsons (4 years, $94M), Evan Turner (4 years, $70M), Evan Fournier (5 years, $85M) … even Timofey Mozgov (4 years, $64M). Durant is THE prize, and after he returns to the Thunder (just expect it, Warriors fans … it’ll make it so much easier when he does), the Warriors will probably bring most of the band back together.

Harrison Barnes has said he wants to come back to Golden State, and the Warriors will reportedly match any offer for Barnes if they don’t get Durant. Of course, that’s what teams say when they want to discourage other teams from offering max deals to their restricted free agents. Yet, Barnes returning is probably what will end up happening, and the Warriors’ chemistry — often noted as one of the team’s great strengths in recent seasons — will be tested. If Barnes re-signs, imagine the awkwardness.

  • The Warriors’ four best players just flew to the Hamptons to entice Durant to come to Oakland and be Barnes’ taller, flashier, and infinitely better replacement. “Oh, hey Harrison. Good to see you, glad you’re back.” They might SAY that during training camp, but they probably won’t mean it.
  • There’s a scenario in which the Warriors could sign Durant and keep Barnes if they parted ways with Andrew Bogut, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston. But Iguodala was there for the Warriors’ Durant pitch, so …
  • Barnes will make more — probably significantly more — than anyone else on the team when the dust settles. That can’t sit well with a squad that choked away the Finals while Barnes clanked all of those open shots.

The players understand that NBA salaries aren’t static — they’re thought of as a percentage of the rising cap — so Barnes making $22 million or whatever is equivalent to a $16 million annual salary a couple years ago. Barnes wasn’t the only player who could’ve and should’ve played better against the Cavaliers, either. Smart players also know the Warriors can’t just relinquish a player known as an “asset” for nothing, all because he isn’t perfect or key players will be annoyed by his highly-paid presence.

It’s not just Barnes’ return that could get weird. It sounds unlikely now, but Bogut might be in a Warriors uniform once again next season if Durant stays in OKC or signs with a team other than Golden State. The Warriors wouldn’t mind trading Bogut, but other than reversing course after losing out on Durant and going after Al Horford or even Dwight Howard, or signing-and-trading Barnes for a center, how will they upgrade that position? Pau Gasol is much better offensively, but he took less than he could’ve made to play in Chicago. How much do the Warriors want to pay a 36-year-old who’s played over 40,000 NBA minutes?

The Warriors would get Contract Year Bogut, which might make keeping him not so bad. Still, the whispers about Golden State’s misgivings behind the scenes (mostly, that Bogut is often injured or ineffective when they need him most) becoming very much public this week surely stung a player who’s been known to get cranky when he feels like he’s being disrespected.

We can be 99.9% sure the ever-cryptic Iguodala’s use of “b” has nothing to do with Bogut, or the guy Warriors Twitter lovingly refers to as “Harry B.” But rolling out the same old Death Lineup next season is officially the fallback option after every Warriors figure who matters just spent a few hours wooing Durant.

If (OK, when) the Warriors bring Barnes back and stand pat, save for a few changes around the margins, it’s going to be a little more awkward in their practice facility and locker room. And this team hasn’t done “awkward,” at least in the sense where everyone knows something about the team’s overall personality is off, for a while.

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Just add Pau Gasol to the current team plus rookie Damion Jones and win another 65-70 games next season….

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