J.J. Barea not optimistic about return
"It's not looking good here in Dallas, I don't think," Barea said Tuesday night. "I'm disappointed. I wasn't expecting this. Hopefully, it gets better."
The defending champion Dallas Mavericks appear to be sticking to a plan that will get the franchise below the salary cap next summer for the first time in the Mark Cuban era. The goal is to create enough cap space to aggressively pursue one of the top three potential free agents, All-Star point guards Deron Williams and Chris Paul, and three-time defending defensive player of the year, center Dwight Howard.
The casualties appear to be the Mavs' four free agents that played key roles in winning the franchise's first championship, including Chandler, the galvanizing defensive force, Butler, Barea and possibly also hard-edged shooting guard DeShawn Stevenson.
Barea stressed that returning to Dallas, the team that signed him five years ago as an undrafted rookie out of Northeastern, remains his priority. But, he said, talks with the Mavs and agent Dan Fegan lead him to believe that the Mavs are not prepared to offer close to what he can reap elsewhere.
"It's disappointing they're not going to do what needs to be done to bring back the team," Barea said. "I want to be come back. I think the fans want me to come back. But, I don't know."
Teams and players were allowed to begin face-to-face meetings on Monday, and players can sign contracts starting Friday. Barea said he hopes to know where he is playing soon.
"I have options," he said.
Barea, who has increased his scoring average and assists in each of the last three seasons while emerging as a 20-minute-a-game player, said he believes that Chandler, the Mavs' fiery, 7-foot-1 center, will sign with another team.
Butler, the 6-foot-7 veteran forward, who underwent major knee surgery in early January and missed the remainder of the season, visited the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday after having met with the Chicago Bulls on Monday.
Butler was also expected to visit the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday night, with the New Jersey Nets and possibly the Detroit Pistons also on his itinerary this week. Butler is seeking a multiyear deal, while the Mavs are interested in a one-year contract.
Stevenson, the defensive-minded shooting guard who knocked down big 3-point shots throughout the postseason, and especially against the Heat in the NBA Finals, is discussing options with a "number of teams," according to his agent, Mark Bartelstein.
Barea averaged 8.9 points and 3.9 assists in the 21 postseason games. His quickness and ability to get to the rim flustered the Lakers in the second-round sweep and he started at the shooting guard for the final three games of the NBA Finals.
In the regular season, Barea averaged career highs in scoring (9.5), assists (3.9) and minutes (20.5). He bounced back from an awful first two months shooting, ranking among the league's worst in 3-point percentage, to finish at 34.9 percent after a sizzling second half.
Barea served a critical role that allowed coach Rick Carlisle to limit Jason Kidd's playing time by nearly three minutes from the season before when Kidd, 38, entered the playoffs exhausted and was ineffective in a first-round loss to the San Antonio Spurs.
The plan this season was to continue to decrease Kidd's regular-season minutes and that will become especially important during the compressed, 66-game schedule that includes 20 back-to-backs and one back-to-back-to-back.
Barea maintains that he hopes talks with Dallas take a U-turn and that a return is possible. But, he reiterated, he has serious doubts.
"It's still my first option," Barea said. "We'll see what happens."
Jeff Caplan covers the Mavs for ESPNDallas.com.