J.J. Barea driving for winning path
CARACAS, Venezuela -- Luck didn't follow the Minnesota Timberwolves around last season, their rising expectations quickly laid low by a spate of injuries.
Up to six players suffered serious physical ailments at different stretches of the season. So once again the Timberwolves failed to advance into the postseason (something they haven't done so since the 2003-04 season), while at the same time J.J. Barea went through his second straight season without tasting the postseason.
The Puerto Rican point guard was coming off the glories of a championship he had won in 2011 with the Dallas Mavericks, and was even mentioned as being one of the NBA's emerging point guards, as then Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson declared himself after his team fell to Dallas in the second round of the playoffs.
But then things not only unraveled for the team, but also for Barea. His participation in terms of minutes played were greater in two seasons with the Timberwolves than in Dallas, and his offensive numbers were the best of his career. (During the 2010-11 season in Dallas, he played 81 games and averaged 20.6 minutes, 9.5 points and 3.9 assists. In Minnesota during the 2011/12 season, he played 41 games and on averaged tallied 25.2 minutes, 11.3 points and 7.7 assists. Last season in 74 games, he averaged 23.1 minutes, 11.3 points and 4.0 assists).
When you suggest the possibility of going beyond the regular season in 2014, Barea perks up. It's something he would like to do with the Timberwolves. In spite of this, Barea doesn't close the door on the Mavs, who at the beginning of the summer sounded as if they were trying to once again retain his services. He has strong rapport with the Dallas owner.
"It's a great relationship with Mark Cuban. If they want to bring me back to Dallas, I am very [good] with it," he said. "But I'm happy in Minnesota. They're the ones that wanted me there, the ones that signed me for four years, so until they decide to trade me, I'm going to give them all my effort in the games."
Minnesota coach Rick Adelman's pupils could be in the limelight this season, provided that last season's woes don't repeat themselves.
"We have a great team," Barea said, citing Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love. "We also have Kevin Martin and new guys. Our problem is that we haven't been able to maintain ourselves healthy. If we stay healthy, we see ourselves in the playoffs."
Rubio joined the team late after recuperating from his anterior cruciate ligament injury to his left knee. He was out for the final stretch of the 2011-12 season, the start of the last season and did not appear in a game until December.
Rubio is playing for the Spanish national team in the EuroBasket championship being held this month in Slovenia. If there aren't any setbacks, he will arrive in good form for the coming season.
Love is also recuperated from his injury. He fractured the third and fourth metacarpal bones in his right hand last preseason. A few months after his recuperation, he was back in the infirmary with the same injury. In all, he played in only 18 games. Brandon Roy, Chase Budinger, Malcolm Lee and Josh Howard all had knee injuries.
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Barea crosses his fingers so that none of the heavyweights stay behind. That includes Derrick Williams and Nikola Pekovic, who re-signed for five years and $60 million, refusing to play in the European championship with Montenegro so he could seal his deal.
"We had to bring him back," Barea said. "He is our big man and maintaining the same group always is important."
Here in Caracas, Barea has been deeply involved in the 2013 FIBA Americas Championship. He looked good in a win over Brazil, scoring 12 points and dishing out four assists. In the second game against Canada, he had 11 points and four assists.
That pride of being able to participate with Puerto Rico's national team drives him. It troubles him that other teammates who aren't injured made the decision of not helping out the national team.
"Whoever want to be here, come practice. Those that are here are the ones that wanted to come. There are some that didn't want to, others that were hurt. So we came here with our best, with what we have. As a team you have to be well," he said.
Barea has long used summer national program commitments to help get ready for the season.
"I've always done it since I was 16, representing Puerto Rico. I've always done it in the summer and I use it as a way to prepare myself to be in shape. That way when the NBA practices start, I don't [have] to do much and I'm in shape. I love defending that Puerto Rico jersey," he said.
He has his sights set on the 2014 World Cup in Spain, where he wants to arrive having tasted the NBA playoffs once again.
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