Golden State Warriors: How Will the Warriors Cope Without Harrison Barnes?


As we head into the third week of October with no further news of progress between Harrison Barnes and the Golden State Warriors regarding Barnes’ contract extensions, it seems more and more likely that Barnes will enter free agency as a restricted free agent. And while it seems unlikely, it is possible that if the Warriors receive an offer too rich to match on Barnes, they could very well decide to move on from the 2012 draftee.

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But if that scenario does come to fruition, it will be interesting to see how the Warriors plan on coping with that loss.

The first step is to realize what Barnes brings to the Warriors. The easy (or “hot take”) response here is that Barnes is nothing more than just a role player that thrives off Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson’s ability to draw defenses towards them. While part of that statement is true, it is important to take note that Barnes’ relationship with the Warriors’ offense is symbiotic, not parasitic.

Shooting 40.5 percent from behind the arc last season, Barnes was a way-above average three-point shooter. He was especially deadly from the right corner, where he shot 58.5 percent on 53 attempts. The drastic improvement on his long-range accuracy (34.7 percent from three last season) can be chalked up to him receiving more playing time alongside bigger offensive threats, but the onus is still on him to knock down those shots. Barnes finished sixth among all qualified small forwards for three-point field goal percentage – so while Barnes plays in a role that is easily replaceable, the quality that he provides won’t be as easy to replace.

The second half of Barnes’ role is to play hard defense. While this is harder to quantify with the lack of in-depth statistical data on defense, the available stats aren’t all that flattering for Barnes. According to, Barnes’ defensive assignments shot 0.6 percent better when they were defended by him. The value is so negligible that it’s safe to infer that Barnes’ defense doesn’t really alter his opponent’s shots.

Barnes’ athleticism is also something the Warriors lack in spades. Outside of Barnes, Andre Iguodala is perhaps the Warriors’ most athletic player and even his athleticism is waning with his knee issues. While it may not be terribly important, having an athletic player on the roster is helpful – Barnes helped to finish many fast breaks last season, and his dunks had the added benefit of hyping up the Warriors’ faithful.

So technically, if the Warriors were to move on from Barnes, they would need to replace him with a three-point shooting, athletic wing who is an average defender. There is certainly a market for such players, but the problem is that the Warriors may not have the funds to bring in one that matches Barnes’ calibre.

The Warriors will have $69 million in guaranteed salaries next season, without taking into account Shaun Livingston and Jason Thompson’s partially guaranteed contracts. If the Warriors decide to pick both contracts up, that figure rises to $80.7 million. Again, this doesn’t factor in Festus Ezeli and Barnes’ contract extensions.

If the Warriors sign Ezeli to a $10 million extension (which is very likely), they will be over the $89 million cap that is likely to be set for next season. With the various cap holds from Marreese Speights, Leandro Barbosa, Brandon Rush and (possibly) Ben Gordon’s expired contracts, the Warriors will have to waive one of Thompson or Livingston’s contracts to get under the cap.

Getting under the cap is vital for the Warriors if they intend to move on from Barnes. It gives them the flexibility of being a player in the free agent market, and lets them seek out their first-choice in replacing Barnes. Potential replacements include: Chandler Parsons, Nicolas Batum, and Joe Johnson. Yes, neither of those names really set the heart racing, but the small forward crop for the 2016 is shallow.

But of course, the biggest (or one of the biggest) names in the 2016 free agency class is none other than Kevin Durant. The Warriors have been linked to Durant on multiple occasions, but the link was nothing more than a pipe dream – until now. If the Warriors decide to move on from Barnes, they could generate enough cap room to sign Durant. It would involve coming to an agreement with Ezeli and having him refrain from signing any offer sheets until the Warriors and Durant signed a contract. They could then match Ezeli’s offer and go over the cap doing so, because they are re-signing him. The cap holds for Ben Gordon, Brandon Rush, Marreese Speights, and Leandro Barbosa would also have to be taken into account, which means the Warriors might have to renounce a few of them.

If I’ve lost you amidst all the math, I apologize. Here’s what I’m trying to get to: if Barnes and the Warriors cannot come to an agreement, not all hope is lost. Barnes, for what he was able to bring to the table, might not be worth the max contract that a rival team might sign him to. Losing him for nothing in free agency will hurt, but with the rising cap, it gives the Warriors an opportunity to be a player in the free agent market – a rare opportunity for teams as well-set as the Warriors.

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