Is Harrison Barnes a Building Block or Trade Bait for Golden State Warriors?

Grant HughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistFebruary 4, 2014

OAKLAND, CA - JANUARY 15: Harrison Barnes #40 of the Golden State Warriors during a game against the Denver Nuggets on January 15, 2014 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

Harrison Barnes has been an epic disappointment this season, and as the Golden State Warriors continue their efforts to become a legitimate contender instead of a mere playoff team, you have to wonder whether the second-year forward figures into their future plans.

Amid that lingering uncertainty, one thing remains unassailably true: Warriors fans are behind Barnes. They desperately want to see him succeed, to the point of deliriously overreacting to plays he completed fairly often last year.

Like this strong finish against the Los Angeles Clippers:

Per TrueHoop's Ethan Sherwood Strauss, the pandemonium that followed Barnes' dunk encapsulated the worried, still-somehow-optimistic sentiments surrounding Barnes this season:

If the crowd's crazed reaction for a merely cool second-quarter jam was a little over the top, it may be attributable to a certain nervous energy regarding the Barnes situation. He’s been adrift on this roster this season, and the murmurs of doubt and disappointment have been growing louder. 

Clearly, Golden State supporters want Barnes to be a big part of the team's future. Unfortunately, Barnes himself hasn't done enough to solidify his status as a core Warrior.


What's Going Wrong

We'll get to the options Golden State has for dealing with Barnes momentarily. First, though, it's worth dissecting what's been up with his game this season.

Put simply, we're looking at a near-total regression for the 21-year-old wing.

Barnes' numbers have dipped in virtually every key area since last season, despite larger minutes and a bigger role.

Harrison Barnes' Statistical Step Back
PEReFG%TS%Points per 36 Min.Rebs. per 36 Min.Asts. per 36 Min.

Anecdotally, he's been extremely hesitant on offense. Barnes has had a real knack for making easy shots difficult and difficult shots impossible. His every touch features countless hesitation moves, fakes and jabs. Defenders are almost never bothered by his various feints, which only makes his offensive forays more difficult.

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 29: Harrison Barnes #40 of the Golden State Warriors handles the ball against Kyrie Irving #2 of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first quarter at Quicken Loans Arena on December 29, 2013 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expre
Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

But the real problem is Barnes' reluctance has turned him into a bona fide ball stopper.

His game was herky jerky and somewhat robotic to begin with, but now you can practically hear the gears grinding.

It hurts to see Barnes like this because he's a gifted athlete, capable of breathtaking plays when he doesn't have to think or create deliberately. He finishes well with either hand and has a perimeter stroke that looks smooth when he's open. In fact, one of the only areas Barnes has improved this year is his long-distance shooting.


Option 1: Deal Him

So what's the answer to the Barnes conundrum?

One possible solution involves shipping him out in exchange for a player who could provide more immediate help. Frankly, that's a terrible idea.

Barnes' value is at its absolute nadir right now, so trading him at this juncture would net the lowest return imaginable. Remember, this guy is an elite talent on a rookie deal, has a great attitude and work ethic, and hasn't complained about his role once in his entire career.

That's a rare commodity in today's NBA. And even if Barnes' performance has been underwhelming, his value to the Warriors locker room and overall culture remains far higher than anything he could fetch in return.

And then there are the financial roadblocks to a deal. Barnes makes just $2.9 million this year and $3 million in 2014-15. With the Dubs already over the cap, they won't be able to take back any kind of significant salary in a potential Barnes deal. That means they'd have to settle for a veteran making little more than the minimum, or look into expanding a deal to include more players and more salary.

Neither seems like a palatable option when compared to the prospect of simply keeping Barnes around.

For reference, I floated the hypothetical possibility of using Barnes to pursue guys like Lou Williams or Andre Miller a few weeks ago. Even then, those deals felt forced and ill-fitting. Little has changed since.


Option 2: Hold Fast

The beauty of Barnes is that the Warriors don't need him to be a building block.

He's ideally suited to a supporting role because he functions best when teammates set him up in the open floor and on standstill jumpers. Barnes has a vital part to play on the Warriors; it's just that his role might be a smaller one.

It's a credit to Barnes that he has put up with head coach Mark Jackson's asinine insistence on using him in isolation and in the post on offense. A less mature player would have publicly bristled at being so consistently set up to fail like that.

Not Barnes, though. He has soldiered on and accepted whatever role into which the Warriors have thrust him.

His stolid persistence was evident in comments he made to Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle:

It’s a battle every day, but the biggest way to work through it is to continue to work hard. If you continue to practice the same things every single day, you know you might miss a shot or a couple of shots, but if you keep working the same way, they’ll eventually fall. It’s a long season. There’s no reason to try to adjust things now. You’re already 40 games into it.

Barnes may not be the kind of player the Warriors should build around. But because of his demeanor and attitude, he's definitely someone the Warriors should want around while they're building.


Option 3: The Solution

OAKLAND, CA - JANUARY 28: Harrison Barnes #40 of the Golden State Warriors dunks against Marcin Gortat #4 of the Washington Wizards on January 28, 2014 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by d
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

It's not Barnes' fault so much was expected of him; it's the fault of evaluators who saw his raw talent and assumed he'd quickly become a star.

The reality is, he's an extremely gifted athlete who happens to play basketball. It'd be nice if Barnes were more instinctive and fluid, but the Warriors can work with what he has—provided they stop asking him to do things he can't do.

Dealing him would be a mistake, but so would forcing him into a position where he's expected to be a central piece of the roster. Barnes is something between a trade chip and a building block.

The sooner the Dubs realize that, the better off they—and Barnes—will be.