Faced with the challenge of rehabbing a serious injury, J.J. Barea is showing once again why he has been a fan favorite for the Dallas Mavericks for years.
In 2006, the Dallas Mavericks made a strange addition to their roster. A team fresh off a Finals appearance signed a six-foot point guard from the Developmental League team in Fort Worth to add some depth to their bench. J.J. Barea excelled in college basketball at Northeastern, making the Honorable Mention All-America team and being named a Bob Cousy Award Finalist. But his small stature made him a poor fit for the NBA.
At least that’s what everybody thought.
Barea was a scrappy underdog, though, and once he claimed a spot on an NBA roster, refused to give it up. Still, he only played sparingly under head coach Avery Johnson, averaging just over seven minutes per game in his first two seasons.
Things changed once Rick Carlisle took over in 2008. Carlisle’s offense thrives with multiple play-making guards, and Barea fit perfectly into the spread pick-and-roll concepts the new Mavericks coach installed. Over the next couple years, Barea became more and more efficient in his role off the bench, eventually becoming a key piece of the 2011 title team.
After a brief stint in Minnesota, Barea came back to the Mavs in 2014 and picked up right where he left off. For the last five seasons, Barea has been the dependable sage of Carlisle’s offense, guiding every new guard through the nuances of the Mavericks’ system. To call him a coach on the floor is wrong, because it implies his ability is suspect. And though he’s lost a step, he still makes all the right plays, and shoots the ball even better than before.
In January of last season, Barea tore his Achilles tendon (against Minnesota, of all teams). A devastating injury at any age, it’s career threatening for a 34-year-old like Barea. But there’s been no talk of retirement. The scrappy underdog plans to fight for his spot again. And Mavs fans couldn’t be happier.
Maybe that’s because the Mavericks have always been scrappy underdogs, too. The team that had one of the lowest winning percentages in the 90s was always forgotten. Dirk Nowitzki was doubted every step of his career until he won a championship. So when J.J. Barea arrived, he wasn’t some anomaly on the Mavericks; he fit right in.
Barea will rehab and fight to get on the court again next season, which might be his last. And when he’s finally introduced at the AAC, he’ll get a standing ovation from a crowd that knows what it means to cheer for the underdog.