'Nobody even came close' to matching Wolves' offer, J.J. Barea says
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The worst-kept secret in the Minnesota sports scene is now official: J.J. Barea is a member of the Timberwolves after signing a reported four-year deal and being introduced Wednesday.
Details of the contract were not released, per team policy, but Barea said that "nobody even came close" to matching both the money the Wolves offered and the amount of recruiting they did to land the veteran who won an NBA championship with the Dallas Mavericks last June.
"I am excited to be here," he said. "I am here to help this team as much as I can. Bring my energy and bring my passion to the game, my competitiveness and help my teammates and my coaches to win basketball games."
The biggest question about the signing is where Barea fits in the offense. Although he is listed as 6 feet tall, it is widely known (and joked about) that it's a classic example of a team being generous when filling out the heights and weights on their roster.
Barea joins a team with rookie point guard Ricky Rubio and the veteran Luke Ridnour, who fueled speculation about the Wolves perhaps shopping the final three years of his contract by declining media requests this week. But coach Rick Adelman said he will find a way to get them all on the court -- including playing Barea and Ridnour off the ball at the two-guard.
"I'm going to have to," Adelman said after practice on Wednesday. "I have done it before in every place I have been in. I played Mike Bibby and Bobby Jackson together (in Sacramento). In Houston, I played Aaron Brooks and Kyle Lowry. We are going to do it."
David Kahn, the Wolves' president of basketball operations, confirmed when introducing Barea that Ridnour is "absolutely" part of the Wolves future.
Kahn said Ridnour showed reservation at first because he was under the impression Barea was coming in to split the point-guard minutes with him and Rubio, but Kahn stressed this would be a situation where there would be two ball-handlers on the court.
Kahn pointed out how Ridnour fit in well in a similar role with the Milwaukee Bucks where he often shared the court with rookie Brandon Jennings in the 2009-10 season.
"I have talked to J.J. and Luke about (playing off the ball) in the last 48 hours," Kahn said. "I think Rick has demonstrated (his ability to play two point guards). Rick has no problems playing two ball-handlers, small guys at the same time from time-to-time."
Adelman added: "The way we are handling the ball, I need ball handlers on the floor to make plays. We are going to try it, we are going to get hurt, but that's my plan, I got to put our best players on the floor and our three point guards are good players."
Kahn also said another big factor in bringing in Barea was depth. He had reservations about going into a 66-game season with just Ridnour and Rubio. Barea will provide with the depth needed to get through the grueling schedule which includes an eight-game road trip and two separate back-to-back-to-backs.
Although just a five-year veteran at the age of 27, Barea immediately injects some veteran leadership and playoff experience to a team that too often relied on Kevin Love to fill that void the past two seasons.
"I think he is going to be a tremendous help in the locker room in terms of rallying our guys," Kahn said. "The coaches need help with that. Every basketball team is the same. I think he will be really helpful for that."
Barea has played in 40 career playoff games in his five seasons. To put that in perspective, the returning Wolves from last season's team have played in a combined 57 playoff games -- 21 of them belonging to Darko Milicic while he rode the bench of the talented Detroit Pistons teams at the turn of the century.
Barea admitted it is an odd feeling going from a veteran-laden club that won a championship last season to being a veteran in a locker room that won just 17 games a season ago.
"It is different," Barea said. "I still feel young. I can still relate to (the younger players). It will be interesting but fun at the same time."
Said Adelman, "(His leadership) is a big item. That experience alone is going to help. He has been through it. You would think our young people would recognize that fact and listen to things he has to say and follow the way he plays."
Berea's rise to NBA prominence is a unique one. He went undrafted in the 2006 NBA Draft after a four-year career at Northeastern University in Boston. He bounced around for a bit that summer, playing with the Golden State Warriors in the Vegas Summer League before latching onto the Dallas Mavericks for the 2006-07 season.
After a brief stint in the NBA D-League during his rookie year, Barea was recalled by the Mavericks where he worked his way up the food chain and earning a spot as the backup point guard, playing in 81 games last season and 78 and 79 the seasons before that.
His coming-out party came this past season, when he averaged career highs in minutes (20.6) and points (9.6) with the NBA champion Mavericks. Barea scored 22 points and dished eight assists in the fourth game of a decisive sweep over the Los Angeles Lakers.
Late in the elimination game, Barea was elbowed by Lakers forward Andrew Bynum, who was then ejected and suspended for the start of this season. Barea and new teammate Michael Beasley can bond over war wounds, as Beasley also found himself on the business end of an ejection-worthy cheap shot from Bynum last season.
One of the biggest advantages to Barea's game is his quickness on the court. As Wesley Johnson pointed out, acquiring the speedster means "that's one less guard we have to worry about running around chasing."
Johnson recalled trying to guard Barea last season as a rookie and said he would look away for a second and Barea would be on the other side of the court.
Kahn downplayed it having any significance in signing Barea, but an added bonus is his ability to speak Spanish and converse with Rubio in his first language. Rubio has made great leaps with his English since his introductory press conference in June but still struggles at times, especially in large groups.
Rubio said earlier in the week it will be nice to have a teammate he can speak Spanish with on the team -- just don't expect to see it on the practice court.
"I am going to try to deny them speaking anything other than English (during practice). I won't know what they are saying," Adelman said. "I had to do that with Vlade (Divac) and Peja (Stojakovic in Sacramento). You speak English out here, so I know they aren't talking behind my back or whatever."