In a move that most people have seen coming for a couple of weeks, the Mavs are set to release J.J. Barea, the 5-foot-10 guard who has played 11 of his 14 seasons in the NBA with the team. The Mavs had 16 players under guaranteed contract and had to get rid of one of them before the season started to meet the NBA’s 15-man roster limit. The 36-year-old was the likely choice, pretty much as soon as he signed his new $2.6 million deal. It was like a going-away present.
If Barea doesn’t play another second in the league, the Puerto Rican guard is a success story, an undrafted player shorter than me—though he was hilariously listed at 6-feet in game programs for years—who carved out a valuable role for himself on a championship team. His play against Miami in the 2011 Finals earned him a big contract with the Timberwolves, which ultimately didn’t work out. But he was welcomed back in 2014 and played the best basketball of his career after returning to Dallas, leading the second unit and forging an unstoppable two-man game with Dirk Nowitzki. In the process, he became a fan favorite—not something he had always been during his first stint in the city. And that doesn’t even touch on the humanitarian work he did when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico.
Other than Mark Cuban and coach Rick Carlisle, Barea was the last public-facing link to that title-winning squad. He wants to keep playing and asked to be released sooner rather than later if they were going to do it anyway so he could try to catch on with another squad. (The Mavs are replacing Barea in camp with veteran Courtney Lee, who is also not expected to make the final roster.) If he doesn’t, I’d expect him to make an appearance or two here as the team celebrates the 10th anniversary of its championship season. And then again when his jersey is retired, which I expect to happen at some point. The only question: will it be the No. 11 he wore the first time, or the No. 5 (his favorite) that he wore when he came back?