DALLAS — Despite seeing his fair share of personal success during the 2015-16 schedule, Dallas Mavericks guard J.J. Barea enters the summer with a few concerns about his health that he hopes to alleviate prior to the start of next season.
Appearing in 74 games and making 16 starts this season, the 31-year-old Barea averaged 10.9 points, 2.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists an outing after signing a reported four-year deal worth $16 million last summer. He also shot a career-best 44.6 percent from the field and 38.5 percent from three-point range, giving the Mavericks a boost once again in the backcourt. But after suffering a strained right groin late in the season, Barea wasn’t able to give the Mavs a lift in the playoffs as the team eventually fell in five games to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round. And with hopes of building on this season’s success, Barea heads into the offseason focused on returning to 100 percent.
“You know, it was an up-and-down season and a tough season, but team-wise I think we fought till the end,” Barea explained during his exit interview with the media last month. “We fought all year. We had our good moments and our bad moments, but we stayed together, though. The important part is we stayed together as a team at all times. And I think we left it all out there, so I think it was a great season.”
Welcoming his daughter, Paulina, into the world on March 31, Barea was named the Western Conference Player of the Week for games played from March 28 through April 3. The undersized floor general also had no problem putting the team on his back late in the season while earning the honor for the first time in his career, becoming the first Maverick to garner the award since Monta Ellis on April 13, 2014.
Barea led the Mavericks to a 4-0 record during that stretch with victories against Denver, New York, Detroit and Minnesota. He also averaged 23.5 points, 3.0 rebounds and 6.8 assists during that span while shooting 52.1 percent from the field and 48 percent from three-point range. But after leading the team in scoring and assists in each of those outings, Barea was sidelined after just eight minutes of action led to him suffering the groin injury against Memphis during a 103-93 win on April 8.
Sitting out two nights later due to the injury as the Mavs fell to a 98-91 road loss against the Los Angeles Clippers, Barea returned to action but clearly wasn’t completely healthy while scoring just five points on 2-of-11 shooting as Dallas clinched a playoff berth with a 101-92 win in Utah on April 11. And after averaging just 6.3 points, 1.5 rebounds and 5.0 assists in three games against the Thunder during the first-round series, Barea expressed his frustration with the untimely injury.
“It was frustrating,” Barea admitted. “You know, I was playing the best basketball ever and I was feeling great till that move in the Memphis game, so I was looking forward to the playoffs. And then this happened and I couldn’t get back to normal, so it’s tough. But things happen and it could be worse, so I’ve just got to take care of everything and be ready for next season.”
Vowing to regain his health in time for the ’16-17 season, Barea is now expected to undergo arthroscopic knee surgery this summer. In addition to recovering from the groin injury, the 10-year veteran also expects to have a procedure done on his right medial meniscus. That could hamper Barea’s ability to represent his home country this summer while trying to qualify for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Barea averaged 20.2 points, 3.6 rebounds and 6.2 assists in eight games of the FIBA Americas tournament last summer in Mexico City, settling for a fifth-place finish. But with his health in question, the Puerto Rican national team may be forced to qualify for the Olympics without their unquestioned leader. With that said, Barea vows to return to his elite play next season, hoping to use this summer to recover from his minor aches and pains.
“I’ve got to let the groin heal and just get some rest. I’ve got to get a small scope on my right knee, and then we’ll go from there,” Barea explained.
He added: “I’ve got to give this some rest. And when this is all good, I’ll see how I feel and make a decision. … You know, it’s super important for me to play for Puerto Rico, and I think it also helps me to stay ready for the next season, so we’ll see how it goes.”