To make the fifteen man cutoff for rosters at 5 pm ET on Monday, the Wolves were going to have to cut (or trade someone). Although Chase Budinger’s name had surfaced in trade rumors with Indiana and Cleveland, nothing concrete was likely to happen there prior to the deadline, so that essentially left the Wolves to decide between J.J. Barea, Glenn Robinson III and Robbie Hummel. Obviously, solidifying the fifteenth man on the roster is not exactly a major thing, but that it was Barea who was bought out does in fact say something about the direction of the team.
Now, first of all, part of releasing Barea absolutely had to do with the fact that he will likely find a soft landing spot with his former team, the Dallas Mavericks. Although he was often fiery and sometimes hard to deal with on the court, as a player he was a consummate professional and always a good guy to talk to in the locker room. He was brought on to the team at a time when it was thought that the Wolves just needed to add some pieces to suddenly make the leap into the playoffs, and it was thought that Barea’s championship experience, plus his offensive spark off the bench, would be just what the Wolves needed. Instead, he ended up stuck with primary ballhandling duties on a second unit that had no other real scorers. It was a poor role for his skillset, essentially the equivalent of souping up your Toyota Tercel by starting with ground effects. Barea as a player is a finishing touch on putting together a playoff team, not a foundational playmaker for your woeful bench unit.
That fact is also what gives a certain weight to his release. Had the Wolves released Robinson, it might have been because they felt they could let him go — likely to the D-League — and then get him back should they need him. Had it been Hummel, they would have been hedging their bets: retaining Barea in case they needed a vet off the bench but also hanging onto Robinson as a rookie with upside.
But Hummel was never likely to be cut for the simple reason that he’s an ideal low-maintenance guy who will practice hard and can jump right into the game as a known quantity. Add in the fact that he can reasonably play either wing position and be a stretch four in a pinch and he’s simply a more flexible and less demanding bench player than Barea, whose position is less “point guard” or “shooting guard” than “Barea.”
The real sign in Barea’s release is that the Wolves are committing to potential and growth, along with all the difficulties that will come along with it. It’s not likely that Robinson will see much playing time, which means that should they need him they will be dropping in a rookie who will need to get acclimated rather than a veteran who could hit the ground running.
Whether that commitment is good or bad depends largely on how you personally feel like this season will pan out. For my money, it’s the right move because Barea has never been the kind of veteran who can provide stability and mentoring. He provides punch and fire, which might be actually needed on a Mavs squad that lost their veteran bench puncher in Vince Carter.
Going with Robinson is a clear indicator that the Wolves know their future lies in the hands of their young players. Hopefully they will all get their time to show what they can do.