Entering the 2022-23 season, the Sacramento Kings have reached a crossroads as it comes to Harrison Barnes.
Barnes is an excellent fit in a complementary role, next to franchise cornerstones Domantas Sabonis and De’Aaron Fox. On the other hand, Barnes is entering the final season of his contract — set to make $18.4 million — and could walk for nothing at the end of the season.
The Kings are relatively asset-poor after trading Tyrese Haliburton for Sabonis and trading a protected first-rounder for Kevin Huerter, so they can’t afford to lose a good player for nothing.
The 30-year-old Barnes has been a top 3 player on the Kings since he arrived from Dallas in March 2019, but unfortunately, that hasn’t changed Sacramento’s fortunes.
Finally, Sacramento looks like a team with a depth of NBA talent they haven’t had in Barnes’ tenure.
The team added two multi-faceted shooters in Malik Monk and Kevin Huerter. They drafted Keegan Murray at No. 4, who, based on his Summer League performance, is going to be an immediate contributor in the NBA.
With the addition of Murray, Barnes will finally have another competent wing-sized player on the roster that can meaningfully impact the game.
Still, the Kings’ short-handedness on the wing makes me think they can’t afford to move Barnes unless they are getting a similar-sized player back in return. Both Barnes and Murray lean more towards being power forwards than small forwards, but still, they would be the best forward pairing the Kings have had in years.
One question about Barnes this season and going forward is his defense, especially if he is tasked with guarding small forwards.
It hasn’t been talked about much, but Barnes has regressed in a significant way defensively over the past few seasons. You can’t pin the entirety of Sacramento’s defensive struggles on Barnes, but he wasn’t helping on that end.
Among qualified players, Barnes had the fifth-worst defensive rating in the NBA this past season. While individual defensive metrics remain imperfect, the eye test with Barnes checks out this drop in defense.
He is getting beat off the dribble frequently and seems to have lost some athleticism, which was one of his best traits earlier in his career. It’s getting harder to consider Barnes a small forward at this point in his career.
Barnes is still an overall positive on the floor for what he can do offensively, but the defensive question marks have to be brought up.
During the last two NBA trade deadlines, it seemed like there was a strong chance Barnes would be moved to a contender. He wasn’t.
Kings’ general manager Monte McNair likely realizes the roster’s weakness and how subtracting Barnes would further exacerbate that. If Sacramento disappoints again, you’d think they would finally trade Barnes in the season, but an expiring Barnes likely wouldn’t have the same value he’s had in recent years.
The point is that the team doesn’t have many moves left on the chess board that they could make before the season. Barnes represents one of the few they still have.
Do the Kings want to be the team paying Barnes into his 30s? Also, would Barnes really want to spend the last few seasons of his prime toiling away in Sacramento?
There is no easy answer as it comes to Barnes. If there was some perfect trade where Sacramento could have traded Barnes for the 25-year-old version of Barnes, it would have happened already.
The most likely scenario is that Barnes is back in a Kings jersey, given his value to this upcoming season and how much value the organization is placing on what happens.