DALLAS – As a throne of reporters waited on his arrival Thursday morning at American Airlines Center, J.J. Barea flashed that big old grin which was synonymous with his previous five-year tenure with the Dallas Mavericks.
Barea was all smiles because he’s finally back where he feels he belongs. Back where he feels he should have never left in 2011, when he couldn’t negotiate a fair free agency package from the Mavs and instead went on to sign a four-year, $19 million contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
But after three years with the Timberwolves, Minnesota bought out the last year of Barea’s contract and waived him on Monday. From there, Barea jubilantly signed a one-year, $1.31 million contract with the Mavs.
For Barea, who helped the Mavs captured the 2011 NBA title, happy days are here again.
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"I’m excited to be back,’’ the 30-year old Barea said after the Mavs’ shootaround. "The best five years of my life were here, so hopefully we can get this going again.
"I’m a little older now, I know a little bit more. But I’m just excited to be back.’’
Donnie Nelson, the Mavs’ president of basketball operations, noted that the Mavs couldn’t afford to pass up the chance of reuniting Barea with Dirk Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler. Especially since when Barea was inserting into the starting lineup in Game 4 of the 2011 Finals, he accumulated 40 points, eight rebounds and 14 assists in 78 minutes, and the Mavs won all three contests in closing out the series against the Heat in six games.
"It’s almost like getting the old band back together,’’ Nelson said. "The last time he and Dirk and Tyson shared a locker room together we went to a pretty special place, so that certainly isn’t lost on us.
"He’s just a guy that really plays well with Dirk, he’s got the ability to create shots and he also can give you a nice scoring punch off the bench. Clearly, he’s a big chemistry guy and he’s a winner in every sense of the word.’’
Nelson said he had to "sweat out’’ the 48 hours needed for Barea to clear waivers so the Mavs could sign him. Barea also sweated out those 48 hours, because he didn’t want to play for another team other than the Mavs.
"This was my first option, this was where I mostly felt comfortable going to,’’ Barea said. "So it worked out for me.’’
The addition of Barea gives the Mavs a logjam at point guard where Jameer Nelson is the starter, Devin Harris is the first playmaker off the bench, and Raymond Felton is waiting in the wings while recovering from a high right ankle sprain. Nelson believe the scramble for minutes at point guard won’t become a recurring issue going forward.
"All these guys have their eye on the prize,’’ Nelson said. "I think everyone understands that Rick plays a deep bench and as long as we’re winning games I think things will be just fine.’’
Carlisle explained that he’ll figure out soon enough how to divvy up the minutes at the crowded point guard spot.
"We’ve got a lot of options, and so there’s a lot of different ways we can go and a lot of different things we can do situationally depending on size and matchups and this, that and the other,’’ Carlisle said. "It’s a good problem to have and happy we have it.’’
Barea, 6-foot, 185, figures the logjam at point guard won’t be an issue.
"I think it’s a long season, I think we’ve got the right coach for it, I think he’ll find the good time for us and for whoever,’’ Barea said. "So we’ll see how it goes.’’
Carlisle pointed out that Barea can also play shooting guard, which is the position he started for the Mavs in the final three games of the 2011 Finals.
"We feel he can help us at either guard position with his experience and his ability to penetrate and score and do other things,’’ Carlisle said. "And so we’re happy to have him back.’’
Part of the point guard logjam for the Mavs also included Gal Mekel, who was in his second season and was coming off an impressive training camp. But when the Mavs stacked up Barea’s credentials next to Mekel’s, it was a no-brainer as far as which way they were going to go, so they waived Mekel.
"Unfortunately with the numbers’ game and the opportunity to get a guy like J.J. back, we had to make a hard decision,’’ Nelson said. "But we got nothing but the utmost respect for Gal.
"We wouldn’t even consider this move if we weren’t overstocked at the point guard and having a guy like JJ become available. We’re that high on Gal, but unfortunately it’s the reality of our business.’’
Carlisle isn’t sure if Barea will need some extended practice time before he’s ready for some extended minutes in a game. He just knows the games are coming fast and furious and they’ll have to judiciously work Barea into the fray whenever they can.
"We don’t have a lot of quality practice time coming up in the next few days because we play every other day,’’ Carlisle said. "So we’re not going to be able to lace it up and do a lot of full bore, taped scrimmage type things.
"But he’s a pro, he’s been around, he’s been with a couple of different teams now. I’m pretty confident if we need him to play he’ll go out there and do a good job.’’
So what’s changed with the Mavs’ system since Barea departed, and can he pick up where he left off in 2011?
"Basketball-wise, it’s pretty much the same, just different words and different players, too,’’ Barea said. "But when the coach is the same it’s pretty much the same, you know?
"City-wise, it’s my second home away from Puerto Rico, so it’s comfortable for me.’’
So comfortable that, during his three-year tenure in Minnesota, Barea often thought about what it would have been like to remain with the Mavs.
"I wish I would have never left, but things happen,’’ Barea said. "They happen for a reason, so hopefully this works out.’’