Harrison Barnes is a leader on the Kings, one of the few players with postseason experience, and a versatile starter who unlocks several different lineup possibilities for this group. It’s difficult to the imagine Sacramento making a postseason run without Barnes. The team can’t really envision it, either.
Right now, the Kings have to prepare for the seeding games without Barnes, as he is still in Sacramento after testing positive for the coronavirus. The rest of the squad is in Orlando, though De’Aaron Fox is injured and Alex Len and Richaun Holmes are in quarantine, but no one can replace what Barnes brings.
“Harrison allows a lot of freedom as far as us playing different styles of basketball,” Luke Walton told the media Friday. “We miss Harrison a lot. We need him back, we want him back, but you can’t plan on him being back just because we don’t know.”
Even though the Kings are unsure if and when Barnes will be able to return to basketball activities, they have no plans to sign a replacement player. In the event Barnes can come to Orlando, whether that’s in the next few days or later in the process, he has earned the right to be a part of this team.
“As long as Harrison wants to keep pursuing joining the team, we’re not going to replace him,” Walton said. “Even if he’s not ready for the first game, Harrison means so much to our team that, look, we’re out here trying to make a playoff push, so if we can somehow make that happen and Harrison can join for that part of the bubble, we’re not going to give his spot away.”
Walton noted that Kent Bazemore has been “playing great” as another small forward option, after he shined defensively in the 21 games he suited up for Sacramento. The Kings also signed Corey Brewer heading into the restart for some wing depth, and he has also had “a very nice camp”, according to Walton. Neither of those players is stout enough to move over to power forward like Barnes, giving the team less ability to play small and fast, but at least they can fill the hole in the starting lineup for now.
Justin James has had an increased role in practice of late, and he says he feels comfortable playing the one, two, or three. DaQuan Jeffries has also stayed ready for the opportunity to step in with others unavailable, and those extra numbers in practice should help if Sacramento tries to push the pace.
There aren’t great options available in free agency who could realistically be expected to play minutes for the Kings, especially considering that they’d have to quarantine upon arriving in Orlando. The team has enough players available to scrimmage without Barnes, and there’s no one better to have once the real games start. Saving a spot for Barnes isn’t just a sentimental option, it’s the most logical as well.