Harrison Barnes has been in the league for four season, but do we really know who he is?
Is he the basketball prodigy that many projected to be the next NBA superstar while he was in high school? Or the afterthought who choked in the Finals and appeared to shrink when the moment got too big?
Like most things in life, the answer probably lies somewhere in the middle. After a playoff run filled with bad press, his signing this summer with the Mavericks certainly wasn't much of a cause for celebration among Dallas sports fans. His $94.4 million price tag has drawn much more ire than enthusiasm in town. Now-tired jokes of the Mavs becoming the Warriors B Team, with Barnes, Andrew Bogut and the wrong S. Curry on the roster came and went. Most are bracing for more of the same Mavericks.
In Dallas the struggle for the spotlight is real. Try as he might, Mark Cuban has not been able to steal summer headlines from the Rangers or the Cowboys since the Mavs' 2011 championship season.
The Mavs are always a player in free agency talks, but by their fault or not, they've largely been left empty-handed once the ink has dried.
Meanwhile the city's baseball team is on a roll and Cowboys training camp gets the rest of the chatter on local sports radio. Fans in the Metroplex were more interested, rightly so, in the Stars locking up Jamie Benn to a long-term extension than the Barnes deal.
Bottom line, Dallas is a winner's town. In 2011 Dirk and the Mavs were kings. Five years later, they find themselves battling with the hockey team for headlines. Such is life in Big D.
With all that said, the big Barnes contract was necessary, and a good move. You just have to consider context and timing.
Cuban had his sights set on bigger fish in free agency, like always, but Mike Conley stayed in Memphis and Hassan Whiteside decided to return to Miami.
To open up space to go after a pie-in-the-sky Conley/Whiteside pairing, the Mavs let Chandler Parsons walk. He will be joining Conley in Memphis next season. Some would question why the team would rather pay Barnes than Parsons, a similar small forward who's popular with Dallas fans and limited only by injuries in his time as a Maverick. But that's not an apples to apples comparison.
The Mavs valued Conley/Whiteside over Parsons, as anyone would. We can argue how realistic it ever was to get both star free agents, but the fact remains that by the time Golden State renounced Barnes' rights, the Mavs were in a desperate place. No Parsons, Conley or Whiteside plus an aging Nowitzki that had yet to re-sign. It was Cuban's personal 'Shark Tank' for a few nervous days.
So here's the simple, if uninspiring answer: once Kevin Durant agreed to sign with the Warriors and hence Barnes became available, the Mavs absolutely had to bring him on in order to save face and replace Parsons' production.
You make big decisions based on the information and the opportunities available to you at the time. In that sense the Barnes signing was the first smart big decision the Mavs made this summer. They followed it up with a nice trade for a sure-to-be vengeful Bogut and by re-signing Dirk. The end result: the starting five (Deron Williams, Wes Matthews, Barnes, Nowitzki, Bogut) is better than it was last year, and if Justin Anderson, Dwight Powell and Seth Curry make mini-leaps, the Mavs should improve overall.
Cuban's laser-focus determination on wooing big-name free agents has undermined his title aspirations, but this time, he somewhat lucked into getting better. After DeAndre Jordan bailed on his commitment to the Mavs in 2015, there wasn't a Barnes/Bogut-like consolation prize awaiting them. This Mavs team is by no means a title contender, but it should be competitive for Dirk's swan song. Which may be the next best thing.
Recent Mavs history is filled with examples of putting all their eggs into one basket, then scrambling (no pun intended) for a Plan B. Last summer's drama with Jordan wasn't ultimately their fault, but it undoubtedly hurt the 2015-16 team. They've gone after superstars like LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh and Chris Paul over the last few years only to land Parsons, Tyson Chandler, Monta Ellis, Jose Calderon, O.J. Mayo and Deron Williams.
Barnes is getting paid like those stars in the former group, but he finds company with the latter list of names. The Summer of 2016 funny money clouds the issue. A lot of guys made money this summer that would seem absurd in year's past. With no superstars left on the table, the Mavs were fortunate to have a shot at a guy like Barnes, who actually has a real opportunity to grow his game under Rick Carlisle. He is assured a much bigger role than he had on the Warriors' juggernaut, where he became a spot-up shooter and little else. He's still just 24 years old and possesses above-average athleticism. He will be a much better defender on the wing than Parsons ever was and more opportunity may diversify his offensive skill set.
A change of scenery was necessary for Barnes after an ugly end to his Warriors tenure. Perhaps with a fresh start, a wizard coach and more responsibility thrown his way we will finally find out who Harrison Barnes really is.