For Dallas Mavericks forward Harrison Barnes, admittedly this has been a very tough season.
In his previous four NBA seasons – all with the Golden State Warriors – Barnes had experienced playoff basketball in each season. But in this his first year with the Mavericks, Barnes has come to the realization that he’ll be on the outside looking in once the playoff starts.
And that’s a major disappointment for the fifth-year veteran.
“The chance of making the playoffs are slim to none, so that’s been difficult,’’ Barnes told the Star-Telegram on Friday. “But at the same time I take responsibility for it.’’
As a rookie, Barnes and the Warriors advanced to second round of the playoffs. The next year they reached the first round of the playoffs, and in 2015 they captured the NBA title.
Then last year the Warriors set a single-season NBA record by winning 73 games, but blew a 3-1 lead and lost to Cleveland in seven games in the NBA Finals. Barnes then signed a four-year, $94 million free agent contract with the Mavericks last summer, and is poised to be the team’s cornerstone player.
“A lot of that falls on my shoulders – just being better,” Barnes said. “I think throughout this league you can see how a player’s performance can elevate his team to be successful and do well.”
Barnes is shouldering the blame for this 31-43 season because he has been given the ultimate set of keys – that is he is the Mavericks’ go-to player. That comes with major responsibilities – responsibilities Barnes doesn’t take lightly.
That’s why he can wait to get in the off-season lab so he can start working on nuances of his game.
Barnes said, “It has to be a big off-season for me to work on my game and develop so we can have better chances next year.”
Barnes went from being a role player on a Warriors team that included Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green to being the go-to player in the NBA for the first time. That was not as easy transition for the Iowa native.
“It wasn’t easy and it’s one that I’m still working at to get better at it every single day, every single game,’’ Barnes said. ‘But it’s something that I embrace.
“I know there’s been a lot of struggles, and it’s something you have to do in order to get to that level.”
In his talks with 13-time All-Star forward Dirk Nowitzki, Barnes learned of the struggles the 19-year veteran experienced early in his career. The two have become close and are often seen -- at the tail end of practice sessions - engaging in some pretty interesting shooting competitions.
“It’s been great to play with him,” Barnes said of Nowitzki. “I’ve learned a lot, especially developing into this new role of being the go-to scorer, talking to him a lot.
“His work ethic speaks for itself, so it’s been great to kind of have somebody like that in your ear, in your corner throughout this process.’’
Early on, though, Barnes admits there were some uneasy moments when the exact same play that the Mavericks had been running for Nowitzki for numerous years, they were suddenly running those same plays for Barnes.
“At the beginning of the season I didn’t know how happy he was about it – he was a little upset,” Barnes said with a laugh. “But now that we’ve worked through a season together I think he gets it.
“He understands that he’s been a great mentor to me and I think that I wouldn’t have been able to make the strides I’ve made this season without him just being patience and him just being open about helping me out.”
Starting with tonight’s 7 o’clock game at the FedEx Forum against the Memphis Grizzlies, the Mavericks have eight games remaining in a season which went south, partly due to injuries to several key players.
“We just have to go out there and play hard and compete,” Barnes said. “I’ve never believed that you just want to give up.
“You want to still go out there and play to the level that we know we can play at. Try to make winning plays, compete hard and just play for each other.”