Harrison Barnes on Free Agency, the Olympics, and Playing with the Mavs

In this VICE Sports Q&A, Dallas Mavericks' Harrison Barnes talks about adjusting to his new team and what it's like to be around Dirk Nowitzki all the time.
December 14, 2016, 4:17pm
Photo by Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The biggest news of the 2016 NBA free agency season was the Golden State Warriors signing Kevin Durant. (Obviously.) To create the cap space to fit Durant on their roster, the Dubs had to let go of several players who had been key contributors for them over the past few years, including the player whose spot in the starting lineup Durant now occupies: Harrison Barnes.

Cast aside by the best team in the league, Barnes took his talents to Dallas, where he signed a max contract to play sidekick to Dirk Nowitzki, and eventually—if all went well—take the mantle from him as the team's franchise player sometime down the road, whenever Dirk decides he's ready to hang it up. To prepare for his new role, Barnes headed down to Rio de Janeiro with Team USA, and though he was a bit player, he returned stateside with a gold medal hanging from his neck.

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The Mavericks haven't exactly got off to the hottest start to the season, what with injuries decimating their lineup on a seemingly nightly basis, but Barnes himself has adjusted rather nicely on most nights to being the de facto No. 1 option. Earlier this week, I talked to Barnes about changing teams, the early returns on his first season with the Mavs, his relationship with Dirk, and a bunch more. What follows is an edited transcript of our chat.

VICE Sports: What was different for you this summer, preparation-wise, other than going through the free agency process and moving from Oakland to Dallas?

Harrison Barnes: Playing in the Olympics. That was a little bit different from my normal schedule. The guys I was going up against every day in practice and the games were a little bit better than the competition I usually face in summer pickup.

Did you learn anything in particular from the guys there? Obviously, players that go to the Olympics always come back talking about how great an experience it was and you can usually see the effect on their game. And you had Olympic vets who had been there before like Carmelo and Durant.

For me, it was huge. The ability to learn from those guys—all of them have been franchise players. How they prepare, how they approach the game, how they attack. That was big for me because I was coming into the Mavericks with such a larger role than anything I'd done before in the past. That was big for me, just to be around those guys and learn as much as I can.

Barnes in the Olympic final against Serbia. Photo by David E. Klutho-USA TODAY Sports

That bigger role is something that was probably going to happen anyway, but then Dirk Nowitzki goes down and now all of a sudden you are the true No. 1 guy and you're getting a Carmelo, Harden, DeRozan amount of isolations per game. And you've done well with them. How have you been adjusting to creating more of your own offense?

It's funny. Coach Carlisle, at the beginning of the year, was like, "Yeah, it'll only be like a couple isolations a game, but for the most part we just want you to build on what you were doing in Golden State." It kind of just built from there once Dirk got hurt. "You'll probably have to be working just a couple more iso's a game. So, just be ready for that." Luckily we've had some success [with the isolations] early, but anything I try to do [my plan] is just, be patient. There's a lot of things I have to learn on the court: playing with double-teams, trying to get other guys involved, scoring consistently—all these types of things that I hadn't had to do before. I'm just trying to be patient with the process and just continue to try to get better every day.

Obviously, you've not been able to play on the court with Dirk as much as you would have liked, but I imagine you're still around him all the time at practice and on planes and elsewhere. He's somebody who's been doing it for a very long time at a very high level. What kind of things have you picked his brain about?

I love being around Dirk. Off the court, he is hilarious. Like, one of the funniest dudes I've ever been around and I don't think people realize because, you know, they see him on the court as an absolute killer. When he's playing, when he's in practice, he's always all business. But off the court, he's so funny. But it's been great to develop a relationship with him and talk to him about being a No. 1 option—what that looks like, how to lead guys on the court, and just every single game, how to get yourself going.

How much of a draw was just being around him and playing with him, in terms of you making the decision to go to Dallas?

It was huge for me. I had always been a fan of his game, obviously. I watched his movie on Netflix and I saw him win the championship in 2011, so I've really admired how much he works and the fact that he was with Dallas for so long that he pretty much built that organization. For him to be here, I just want to learn from him as much as I can this year, and hopefully he decides to come back for another year—that'll be great. I'm just trying to be a sponge.

"At the end of the day, Dallas was just the right fit for me." Photo by Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

What was the summer recruitment process like in general? Did you make a decision and zero in on Dallas very quickly or were there other possibilities?

Initially, I wanted to go to Dallas. It's a strong, good organization. When we [the Warriors] played against them, I feel like they were always well coached, they always played hard, they always had good games against us. So, I knew that I wanted to be there, and it's how the process went. A lot of different teams called, I had a few big opportunities, but at the end of the day, Dallas was just the right fit for me.

What's the difference between playing for a Rick Carlisle–coached team and a Steve Kerr–coached team?

[Laughs] It's a little bit more structured down in Dallas. We're not necessarily starting off the season on a 25-game win streak so there's a little bit more discipline. But I love playing for Coach Carlisle. He's such a smart coach, he has great out-of-timeout plays, he does a great job of just running the team, and we got in and had some injuries, but he's just been encouraging everybody, every single day to keep the fight going.

I've got to ask about the nickname. Did you really give yourself the name Black Falcon?

Oh, man. That was a looooong time ago. I'm not even gonna get into that.

I've got a firm "You can't give yourself your own nickname" rule.

I'm just gonna keep my eyes forward.

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