Wait, this Harrison Barnes rumor is a thing?
On Tuesday a report from ESPN.com noted that Barnes, the fourth or fifth option on the Golden State Warriors, is a free agent target for the Sixers. The move for Philly makes a ton of sense for the right price, but is a max contract — even with miles of cap space available — the right move for a player like Barnes?
A four-year max deal for Barnes would cost the Sixers in excess of $90 million, but Philadelphia must spend more than $40 million before the end of the next season to reach the league’s projected salary floor of $80-plus million. It is also conceivable, if things get that far, that Philadelphia and Golden State could strike a sign-and-trade arrangement if the Sixers sign Barnes to an offer sheet and the Warriors decide not to match.
This is the kind of thing that happens in the days leading up to free agency, and something the Sixers really haven’t dealt with for the last three or four seasons. Sam Hinkie was not a big time player in free agency, but Bryan Colangelo has been charged with turning Hinkie’s Process into Progress. That means not only drafting Ben Simmons, but surrounding him with players that can make the Sixers better right away.
Barnes can do that, but again, is a guy who averaged 11 points and five rebounds for a team that scored 115 points per game worthy of that much money? It’s clear the Sixers aren’t in the mix for Kevin Durant or LeBron James, or even Demar DeRozan or Mike Conley, so does it make sense to offer the same type of money to a guy like Barnes when you know he’s not going to have the same type of impact?
Yeah. (Sigh.) Probably.
The Sixers are essentially following Golden State’s model, which was to draft smart and lock up key players early for team-friendly deals, allowing room to bring in a big-ticket guy when the time is right. Steph Curry, for example, made $11.3 million last season, which was less than Klay Thompson ($15.5M), Draymond Green ($14.3M), Andrew Bogut ($13.8M) and Andre Iguodala ($11.7M).
The Sixers core is dirt-freaking-cheap, so adding in one guy who probably doesn’t deserve max money but will get it (because it’s the NBA and there is more money to spend than stars to spend it on) probably looks like a solid move.
Barnes provided great value for the Warriors, making just $3.8M on the last year of his rookie contract. But as a restricted free agent, he is looking to cash in big, and the Sixers is the type of team that will have to overpay to get him. Even then, notes the Washington Post, they might not.
“It’s my first objective to reach a deal with the Warriors, and to try and stay there,” Barnes said Monday at the unveiling of the 2016 U.S. Olympic team. “But it’s a business. They’re going to go out and try to pursue free agents, and just go from there. Based on whatever happens, and be prepared.”
None of this is to suggest that Barnes isn’t a very good NBA player. He was picked by USA Basketball to go to the Olympics (after about a dozen other guys said no) and he was a starter on one of the best NBA teams in history the last two years. He shoots better than 38 percent from three — that’s better than anyone on the Sixers right now — and is a solid defender, often tasked with covering the opponent’s best wing player whenever Iguodala wasn’t on the floor.
What Barnes brought to the Warriors was overshadowed by Draymond Green’s overall development and Iguodala’s shutdown defense. But that’s who he is as a player: he was Golden State’s third or fourth best shooter and third or fourth best defender.
He also flat-out disappeared in the NBA Finals, shooting 5-for-32 in the last three games (all losses) including 3-for-15 from three-point range.
Is that worth max money?
In this year’s market, probably, which is why it will be harder for the Warriors to keep him if the Sixers go in with an offer that big. And yet, if Golden State doesn’t land Kevin Durant — his options have grown to include the Thunder, Warriors, Spurs, Celtics, Knicks, Heat and maybe the Lakers — the Dubs might have no choice but to re-sign Barnes, even if that means overpaying him.
This is the game, and it’s one Colangelo will need to play if he hopes to quickly surround the Sixers core with seasoned talent that can help turn a 10-win team into a playoff contender. Everything stems on how Simmons develops and how Embiid manages his health. Barnes would be a solid piece, but he’s also a slightly better version of Robert Covington, someone the Sixers already have, and should smartly lock up.
You can never have too many wing players, but if you’re going to spend $90 million on one, it hampers what you can do with the rest of your roster.
And besides, if Golden State doesn’t get Durant and, let’s say, he goes back to OKC, there are five other teams that are missing out on him too. Sure, some of them may not be willing to overpay for Barnes like the Sixers will, but if he doesn’t go back to the Warriors, the Sixers need to get in line behind Miami or Dallas or Houston or New York or San Antonio or any number of teams that will contend right away next year.
Could it happen? It could. Will it? Probably not. Should it? The very debate is what life is like in the post-Process era.