This is the ninth installment in a 16-part series running Tuesdays and Fridays profiling each Minnesota Timberwolves player leading up to the start of the NBA season.
Don’t scribble over J.J. Barea’s name on the roster just yet.
After a 2013-14 season full of twists, turns and trade rumors, the offseason consensus has become the point guard’s days in Minnesota are numbered. Yet president and coach Flip Saunders, even after trying to deal Barea last season and this summer, said Barea’s had one of the Timberwolves’ best individual training camp performances.
That could be an attempt at drumming up Barea’s trade value after a down campaign. Or, it could be a simple observation from the Wolves’ judge, jury and executioner when it comes to personnel matters.
Part of that is up for Barea himself to determine.
2013-14 stats: 8.4 PPG, 38.7 FG %, 31.6 3-point FG %, 1.9 RPG, 79 FT %, 3.8 APG, 0.3 SPG during 18.6 MPG in 79 games
2014-15 salary: $4,519,500
Last year: Signed in 2011 after winning a championship with Dallas, Barea’s third season in Minnesota began conventionally enough. The 30-year-old from Puerto Rico was expected to spell Ricky Rubio and take ownership of a capable but unproven second unit.
Barea did, but not in any of the ways he and his employer had hoped for.
The 6-foot, 175-pounder has always been an intense, fiery player with a tendency to get too wild at times. But with the Wolves’ bench struggling and the team looking for some semblance of backup help, Barea played even more erratically than ever. He took and missed shots when coach Rick Adelman put him on the floor in clutch situations, and he never showed the touch that made him an NBA Finals hero for the Mavericks.
Barea’s shooting and scoring numbers were at their lowest since his rookie season in 2006-07. During the final two minutes of games when the score was within four points, Barea went 1-for-11 from the floor.
Adelman trusted him over an equally inconsistent Rubio in one of the most questioned trends of the Hall of Fame coach’s final season before retiring. The bench Barea led didn’t fare much better; Minnesota’s subs scored 27.5 points per game, 25th in the 30-team NBA.
Barea also clashed with now-departed Kevin Love, at one point drawing public criticism from him for pouting at the end of the bench rather than joining his teammates during a timeout. He was reportedly offered to Memphis in a deadline deal, and as Saunders entertained trade offers for Love this offseason, Barea was reportedly included as a contract the team would’ve liked to shed.
The rumors of his impending departure only intensified when the Wolves signed Mo Williams as an unrestricted free agent this summer.
This year: But there Barea was as the team practiced Monday ahead of its preseason opener Tuesday at Indiana, smiling and laughing with teammates and fiercely competing in a team shooting drill.
He’s one of 16 players under contract on the roster, and it appears Saunders will retain either him or second-round selection Glenn Robinson III, whose deal is only partially guaranteed. If they don’t trade Barea, the Wolves could either waive him or buy out his contract, waive Robinson, or do both and have an open roster spot (if they don’t give it to one of the other fringe players at camp).
Barea will likely get plenty of chances to prove he belongs this preseason. Saunders plans to give most of the exhibition minutes, especially early on, to younger players and those fighting for a roster spot.
If he earns one, Barea will still have to compete for playing time. Including him, Minnesota has four players who can man the point, and all but one of them — Rubio — is capable of playing shooting guard, too. Williams has worked alongside Rubio some during training camp, and Zach LaVine was picked 13th overall to develop into an NBA-level combo guard.
But Barea isn’t one to go quietly. Saunders has praised his work in training camp and echoed Barea’s thoughts there remains a place for him on the team. Whether Barea can seize it, or Saunders is truly willing to offer it, remains to be seen.
Quotable: "I’m up for everything. Whatever it takes to help this team out, whatever it takes for me to be out there helping this team out. I play with point guards or two-guards; it’s worked out for me before. . . . I see the players and know this team could use me and I could help them a lot." — Barea at the Timberwolves’ media day