What a difference 24 games can make. Prior to the 2020-21 season, Harrison Barnes’ name was mentioned in plenty of trade rumors and all of them ended with one question -- can the Kings move his contract?
According to The Athletic's Sam Amick, the conversation is shifting and the Boston Celtics are interested in acquiring the Kings' forward.
Danny Ainge have a massive trade exception from the Gordon Hayward sign-and-trade from the offseason and it seems to be burning a hole in his pocket.
While the Celtics, and likely a few other teams around the league, would like to add Barnes, Amick’s sources have the Kings standing pat, at least for now.
“To this point, sources say teams have been given the impression that the Kings have no interest in moving Barnes,” Amick writes.
Amick goes on to mention that Kings general manager Monte McNair likely will field calls on Buddy Hield and that Philadelphia 76ers are interested in veteran Nemanja Bjelica, who currently is out of the Kings’ rotation. But the real meat of this breakdown relates to Barnes.
The 28-year-old forward is having the best season of his NBA career and the Kings are winning games. And now comes the difficult question -- with his stock high, should the Kings trade Barnes?
The easy answer is no, the Kings shouldn’t trade Barnes. At least, not right now.
After a 5-10 start to the season, Sacramento is rolling. They Kings have won seven of their last nine games heading into Friday’s game against the Orlando Magic and Barnes is one of the reasons for that success.
Acquired at the 2019 NBA trade deadline from the Dallas Mavericks, Barnes signed a massive four-year, $85 million extension later that summer. Barnes’ first season in Sacramento was less than stellar, but there was a global pandemic, a work stoppage and a bubble to contend with.
Now in the second season of his contract, Barnes is breaking out. He’s averaging 16.7 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists while shooting a robust 49.1 percent from the field and 41 percent from 3-point range. He’s playing the best basketball of his career and the Kings are winning.
Head coach Luke Walton is relying on Barnes to split his time between the three and the four and he’s playing a team-high 35.8 minutes per game. He’s also part of the closing lineup that ranks amongst the best five-man groupings in the league.
Barnes is making $22.2 million this season, but he has a declining scale contract that loses eight percent every year. He’ll make $20.3 million next season and $18.4 million during the 2022-23 season.
Does McNair want to build a club in his own image? Does he want to clear up cap space? Does he want to find players that are closer to the age of De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton?
All of these questions are legitimate. McNair inherited a team that was not of his own making. He made difficult decisions to allow four free agents to leave during the offseason and he filled up the roster with one-year veteran minimum deals and a pair of second-round selections.
Barnes’ contract currently is the second-highest on the club, but that changes next season when Fox’s extension kicks in. He’s five years older than Fox and eight years older than Haliburton.
But Barnes also is a player that maintains his body at an elite level. In his ninth NBA season, you can write his name in pen on the starting lineup and for the most part, you can also write in his stat line as well. He is the most consistent player on the roster and he’s someone Walton trusts.
There certainly is a chance Barnes regresses. But If this is the level that Barnes is going to continue to play at for the next two-and-a-half seasons, then the Kings would be crazy to move him.
He’s a pro’s pro. His versatility on both ends of the court makes the team better. He has a contract that declines and he is a leader behind the scenes.
Lastly, Barnes is a dream for the Kings off the court. His commitment to promoting social change is in line with the franchise. He spread a $200,000 donation to eight different charities started by families impacted by police violence during the Orlando bubble. He paid for the funeral of Atatiana Jefferson, who was shot and killed by police in Dallas.
In addition to his commitments to promote social change, he routinely donates to the Boys and Girls Club, he started saving accounts for 500 Black youth in Dallas and Sacramento and he has jumped in on countless charitable events from feeding the hungry to taking care of front line workers during the pandemic.
If this was only a basketball decision, it would be difficult. Barnes is playing extremely well and the team needs him to maintain that level to live up to the contract. But his leadership, impact in the community and the example he sets for his young teammates has a value as well. You might eventually be able to replace the player, but replacing all that Barnes brings to the table is a lot more difficult.