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Harrison Barnes, His Agent, and the Big Contract Gamble

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More space for us to argue about whether Barnes is good enough to turn down $16M/yr and are the W's crazy to offer it.

Harrison throws it down.
Harrison throws it down.
Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

So, the recent news that Barnes turned down a $16M/yr x 4 years extension has fanned the flames of the already contentious issue of what Harrison Barnes is and can be. This combined with the news that Barnes fired his agent makes you wonder what the heck Barnes is thinking, and are the W's crazy to offer the money?

Who leaked this? Why is this coming out now?

There are three natural theories.

Leak by the Warriors. Why? To shame HB and make him look bad for turning down the offer, and pressure him to accept it. If so, this would be a bad move to negotiate in the press and would be low. I think it’s not likely, because the W’s seem to be coming out with a strong first offer to engender good will from HB (as opposed to letting him get an offer sheet in restricted free agency). Why would they blow it now? You don’t see the Spurs pulling that stuff.

Leak by Barnes Camp. Why? To float a trial balloon in public to see if he can play hardball for more $ or years. If so, this would also be low and might show a Barnes camp that is putting money above goodwill and chemistry. I don’t think that’s good for his Mr. Mayor brand, so I doubt this too.

Leak by Barnes’s just-fired agent, Jeff Wechsler. Why? He’s pissed that Barnes fired him and wants to embarrass him and also show that he got Barnes a great deal that Barnes is too stupid to accept.

Theory 3 seems the most likely to me (and the one I want to believe). That means you have to take all details and reported attitudes with a grain of salt.

Why did Barnes fire his agent?

An annoying reason would be that he thinks getting a $16M/yr offer is so pathetic that it's a fireable offense. That would show a kind of, dare I say, delusion of grandeur. However, Zach Lowe has a more interesting reason:

His new agent is well connected with many players in his stable.  His old agent is fading fast.  From Ethan Strauss:

According to the team, talks with Barnes' new agent, Jeff Schwartz, aren't in full gear yet. That Barnes fired his now ex-agent Jeff Wechsler isn't necessarily surprising in the context of that particular world. Schwartz has a stacked client list. Wechsler is just barely hanging on with Kyrie Irving as his only active NBA player. Big eats little in the Darwinian landscape of deal-making.

So there are a few possible reasons Barnes fired his agent instead of just that Barnes became a greedy maniac.

Are the W's Crazy to Offer The Contract?

No. They might be wrong, but they are not crazy. On the open market, Barnes is likely to get a lot more, given that multiple teams will have need for an SF and there will be more dollars than good free agents to get. iHypeTV, Ronaldhino and RollingWave lay it out in the comments.

OldFaithful and others look at the possible SFs on the free agent market next year and find it a list of players probably worse than Barnes, or declining (Deng, Batum) or Durant (let a man dream!).

And Kawakami points out that signing Barnes gives the W's more flexibility, not less, assuming HB remains tradeable, including for a sign-and-trade run at Kevin Durant. After all, you need assets to sign-and-trade:

That’s a two-way situation for the Warriors: Signing Barnes is good for them, because he’s a long-term piece who has proven he can fit next to Curry, Thompson and Green… and also a signed Barnes would have good value on the trade market next summer or beyond.

The Warriors could also go into next summer with Barnes as a restricted free agent and could try to include him in multiple-team trade talks…

But as a RFA, Barnes would have a lot of power in that scenario–he could turn any deal down, for instance–and that would gum up any fluid GSW conversations.

Barnes is much more valuable to the Warriors signed than he is unsigned, basically, almost at any price (because of the salary-cap boom).

So Is Barnes Worth A Big Contract, Say $18M/yr? It's A Mystery and a Gamble.

Despite my initial gut feeling of "HOW MANY million?", I’m now convinced it’s a fair offer (percentage of cap wise) for HB, given the difficulty of replacing him due to cap, plus rise in cap. I get it if you don’t think he’s worth it, too. I just re-watched Game 5 & 6 and for every weak play there was a stupendous play. It’s a really frustrating combination.

But look at it another way. What's funny to me is that it's pretty obvious Barnes is a mystery, and I bet the GSW Voltron is having the same arguments we are having on GSOM.  West seems lukewarm on Barnes (cf. "need a third shooter" comments). Others clearly like him, and he does goodwill stuff for the organization (I have a nice picture of my son with Barnes and the Larry from basketball camp).

From Ethan Sherwood Strauss:

As an aside, the Warriors (management and coaches) have consistently been more optimistic about his prospects than I have been. Where I see flaws, they see potential. I gripe about his miscommunications on defensive switches, they praise his focused one-on-one defense. I lament his lack of handle, they note that he recently adopted a couple of Curry's ball-handling drills. I see a player benefiting from a small role, they see someone who might flourish if asked to be a big-time scorer.

We all disagree about Barnes's ceiling.  But I'd put his ceiling at prime Andre Iguodala: strong versatile D, 3 pt range, dunking in your face. That would be worth a big contract.  Most importantly, I think his floor is who he is this year. Good D, questionable decision-making at speed, erratic shot, not bad at a lot of things but not great, plus flashes of awesome athleticism and hustle, high character, and is happy (so far) being the fifth option on a championship team.

That floor probably isn't worth a big contract, but maybe is worth, say, $10M/yr in a vacuum.  So from this perspective, the contract is gambling $8M or so per year over the next 4 that Barnes will grow into something great.

It's hard for me (and many) to envision Barnes improving. But remember how outrageous Klay's near-max contract was less than a year ago?  But Klay took his game up a notch, and maybe Barnes has a few more gears left.  And most importantly: Harrison Barnes has only had one year of real developmental coaching under Steve Kerr, Luke Walton and most importantly, everyone's favorite basketball savant garden gnome, Ron Adams.  HB is young, he's finally got some good pro coaching and a good low pressure role.  Whether the gamble will pay off, no one knows, but I think it's a good gamble for the W's to take.

ps. As many have pointed out, the W's like to negotiate to the deadline, so don't expect resolution before Oct 31.  We may have many more weeks to argue about this.