Harrison Barnes and the Warriors cannot agree on a contract extension because they cannot agree on the future.
Barnes knows he will be a free agent at exactly the right time. With the league’s cap getting a huge lift with the new television contract, teams around the NBA will be flush with money without an accompanying supply of quality players. After all, only one franchise can sign Kevin Durant. Reasonably, Barnes can expect some team desperate for a young difference maker to offer him the maximum they are allowed: $89 million over four years.
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Reasonable expectations and certainty are not the same thing, however. Barnes has not established himself as a player worthy of a maximum offer sheet yet, the way 2012 NBA Draft classmates Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard have. A disappointing season would reinforce the opinions of those who see him more as a useful complementary player than a key factor on a playoff team.
That leaves Barnes with the options of betting on himself or taking less money now, while still getting enough to set him for life financially. That said, the greater the difference between an extension offer and Barnes’ contract expectations, the easier it gets to say no.
The Warriors have competing interests as well. NBA teams are bound by cap holds, placeholders for free agents who have yet to sign new contracts, that are based on previous salary. Since Barnes and Festus Ezeli will be coming off cheap rookie-scale contracts, each has a lower cap hold then their expected 2016-17 salary. Barnes has a cap hold of about $9.68 million, less than half his $20.9 million max salary.
The importance of that gap comes as the Warriors approach free agency next season. If Barnes signs now, the Warriors may not have enough flexibility to add a top-tier free agent — and they are viewed as a potential X-factor in the Kevin Durant hunt that will dominate next offseason. That provides the team with a reason to allow Barnes to wait, even if it means he can increase his value further.
Barnes’ value to the Warriors remains unclear, but he took a major step last season. He easily bested his career highs in shooting 48.2 percent from the field and 40.5 percent on 3-pointers, while also setting career highs with 10.1 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. That modest production could be greatly increased on a team with fewer weapons.
The potential of a trade looms large over these negotiations as well. Extending Harrison Barnes before Nov. 2 makes him incredibly hard to trade during the season because of a nuance in the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement. Since Barnes’ extension would not kick in until the league year changes over in July 2016, league rules dictate his salary for calculating the trade is the average