Going into the 2022-23 season, the Sacramento Kings have reached a crossroads when it comes to Harrison Barnes.
Barnes is a great fit in a complementary role, alongside franchise cornerstones Domantas Sabonis and De’Aaron Fox. On the other hand, Barnes is entering the final season of his contract – which is expected to be worth $18.4 million – and could be walking 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.
Barnes, 30, has been among the Kings’ top 3 players since arriving 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 under Barnes’ tenure.
The team added two multifaceted shooters in Malik Monk and Kevin Huerter. They drafted Keegan Murray at No. 4, who, based on his performance in the Summer League, is going to be an immediate NBA contributor.
With the addition of Murray, Barnes will finally have another capable wing-sized player on the roster who can have a significant impact on the game.
Still, the Kings’ shorthandedness on the wing makes me think they can’t afford to move Barnes unless they pick up a similarly sized player in return. Barnes and Murray lean more towards being power forwards than small forwards, but they would still be the best forward pairing the Kings have had in years.
One question about Barnes this season and in the future is his defense, especially if he’s tasked with guarding small forwards.
It hasn’t been talked about much, but Barnes has regressed significantly defensively over the past few seasons. You can’t attribute all of Sacramento’s defensive struggles to Barnes, but he wasn’t helping that end.
Among qualified players, Barnes had the fifth-worst defensive rating in the NBA last season. While individual defensive measures remain flawed, the eye test with Barnes verifies this drop in defense.
He often gets beaten at the dribble and seems to have lost some athleticism, which was one of his best traits early in his career. It’s getting harder and harder to think of Barnes as a small forward at this point in his career.
Barnes is still overall positive on the court for what he can do offensively, but the defensive question marks need to be raised.
Over the past two NBA trade deadlines, it looked like there was a good chance Barnes would be traded to a contender. He was not.
Kings general manager Monte McNair likely realizes how weak the roster is and how subtracting Barnes would make that even worse. If Sacramento disappoints again, you’d think they’d finally trade Barnes during the season, but an expiring Barnes probably wouldn’t have the same value he’s had in recent years.
The thing is, the team doesn’t have many moves left on the board that they could make before the season. Barnes is one of the few they still have.
Do the Kings want to be the team paying Barnes into his thirties? Plus, would Barnes really want to spend the final seasons of his prime working in Sacramento?
There are no easy answers when it comes to Barnes. If there was a perfect trade where Sacramento could have traded Barnes for the 25-year-old version of Barnes, it would have happened already.
The more likely scenario is that Barnes is back in a Kings jersey, given his value this coming season and the value the organization places on what’s happening.