At least the NFL is back to work. The NBA, well, not so much. It's crickets from coast to coast.
So, let's keep this little hoops party going with the second half of the Countdown -- we'll cleverly call it the The Top Eight. To review, I am ranking and analyzing the 16 players currently on Dallas' 15-man roster, one a day, from least critical to most critical to a title defense (with likelihood of being on the roster next season playing a significant role in the ranking).
Without further delay, today's ranking, No. 8, is none other than:
J.J. Barea's gave the Mavs backup minutes to spell Jason Kidd at the point and an ability to get to the hoop.
His story: This is a full-blown fairy tale. The lovable kid from Puerto Rico is an NBA champion and a national hero. Lucky if he's a hair taller than 5-foot-9, Barea has worked and worked and worked to carve out a career in the best basketball league in the world after the Mavs gave the undrafted free agent out of Northeastern a chance five years ago. The last three seasons under coach Rick Carlisle, Barea has blossomed into a 20-minute-a-game backup to Jason Kidd. What's really crazy is that no one in the league was playing more poorly than Barea in November and December. His 3-point percentage was stuck in the teens and, quite frankly, had Rodrigue Beaubois been healthy and playing up to expectations, Barea might have had a permanent spot on the bench. Instead, as he's done his entire life, he battled, persevered, conquered and came up roses. The Mavs' top penetrator became something of a sudden star with a fantastic series against the Lakers and then Andrew Bynum's classless, mid-air body check near the end of Game 4 further endeared the little guy to all of America. His stellar play continued into the NBA Finals when Carlisle inserted him into the starting lineup at shooting guard in Game 4. The Mavs trailed the series 2-1 and never lost again.
His outlook: The Mavs now have to determine just how valuable Barea is to the club's success. The unrestricted free agent will get offers from other teams and some perhaps for more than Dallas wants to pay. Again, if Beaubois wasn't such a mystery this might be a no-brainer and Barea would continue his feel-good career somewhere else. But Beaubois is a mystery and the Mavs must have a backup who will continue to allow Carlisle to reduce Kidd's minutes in his 18th season (assuming there is a season). Does Dallas believe Beaubois and Jason Terry are adequate backups at the point? The addition of Rudy Fernandez at shooting guard could allow Terry to float to the point more often. Still, Barea's importance as the team's best driver can't be understated. Carlisle consistently turned to Barea when the offense needed a jolt, and he typically delivered. Again, Fernandez is capable of getting to the glass and Beaubois is a slick and slithery customer, although he rarely showcased his ability to penetrate once he returned from a foot injury prior to the All-Star break. Adding to the complication is a new CBA that will restrict payrolls and force Dallas to make tough choices. For instance, if it re-signs Caron Butler (no to mention Tyson Chandler), can it also re-sign Barea? So how valuable is Barea to the Mavs? Whenever the NBA gets back to business, we will find out rather quickly.