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Harrison Barnes returns to the Bay Area as a leader of the Sacramento Kings

Veteran forward still has love for Oakland despite being forced out of Warriors in 2016

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Harrison Barnes will forever be part of the fabric of the Golden State Warriors’ 2015 NBA championship banner hanging in the rafters at Chase Center. Outside of that banner, the Warriors’ relatively new venue in San Francisco feels like just any other NBA arena to Barnes, who was a starter on that Warriors title team.

Now a forward with the Sacramento Kings forward, his heart and championship memories with the Warriors mainly lie on the other side of the Bay Bridge at their old home of Oracle Arena in Oakland.

“I love Oracle,” Barnes told Andscape after the Kings’ 114-106 win on Monday in Game 2 of their first-round series. “I feel some type of way about the Warriors being in San Francisco already. Obviously, those fans [in San Francisco] are great. It’s a special place when you look up and see that banner. A lot of great memories.

“The fans at Oracle Arena were genuine people. I lived in Oakland. I got a lot of love for ‘The Town.’ There was a lot of great fans that really just locked in. It’s a similar just in terms of people just wanting to cheer for a winner. Those people rode for you. Died for you.”

Barnes, the seventh pick in the 2012 NBA draft, averaged 10.1 points and 4.6 rebounds during his Warriors’ tenure — 307 regular-season games and 64 postseason games from 2012 to 2016. Barnes was a part of a young core of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala that helped the Warriors win their first championship since 1976.

Now at 30 years old, Barnes is a veteran on a young Kings team trying to dethrone the reigning NBA champions. The Western Conference’s third-seeded Kings have a 2-0 series lead over the sixth-seeded Warriors with Game 3 Thursday night at Chase Center.

Golden State Warriors forward Harrison Barnes (left) and forward James Michael McAdoo (right) hold the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy on the plane as the team travels home from Cleveland after winning the 2015 NBA Finals on June 17, 2015, in Oakland, California.

Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

In his return to the playoffs for the first time since his Warriors days, Barnes is hoping to build lifelong memories with the Kings.

“Anytime you’ve been able to achieve something as a group you remember that,” Barnes said. “Even when you look up in Sac and see those division titles, they are something. It’s not a championship title, but it’s a group coming together and that is what we’re trying to build here …

“Going to the playoffs is not something that is a given. I did that early in my career and I thought it would just happen again eventually. There was a long time I didn’t go. I’m just trying to stress to our guys to be grateful and be present.”

While Barnes has an NBA championship with the Warriors, his time with the franchise didn’t end in memorable fashion.

Barnes averaged just nine points on 38.5% shooting during the 2016 NBA playoffs, including a 35.2 field goal percentage in the 2016 NBA Finals. Barnes’ struggles in the 2016 playoffs frustrated Warriors fans looking for a scapegoat after the team blew a 3-1 lead in the Finals to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

“He is forever a champion with what he did for us and with us,” Curry told Andscape about Barnes. “In 2015, it was a moment in time in which he made his presence felt in terms of a player and high character person. He gets a lot of mixed love in terms of how it ended and the 2016 [Finals] series and then him getting his bag in Dallas. But he is still doing amazing things because he is a solid pro. He handles everything the right way. He’s a true professional and it was the same way when he was here with us.

“He is still playing at a high level and obviously he’s got more of a leadership role with the Kings in terms helping the young guys figuring it out.”

The Warriors were rumored to have interest in Dwight Howard, Kevin Love and Kevin Durant during the offseason in 2016 with Barnes expected to be the odd man out. On June 30, 2016, Curry, Thompson, Green, head coach Steve Kerr, general manager Bob Myers and Warriors co-owner Joe Lacob delivered a sales pitch to Durant in the Hamptons. Barnes not being included may have been the writing on the wall.

Durant shocked the NBA world by announcing on July 4, 2016, that he was departing the Oklahoma City Thunder to sign with the Warriors as a free agent for $54.3 million over two years. The Warriors had to renounce Barnes’ rights to make room for Durant, thus making the former a free agent. Barnes told the San Jose Mercury News at that time, “I guess I died.” He signed a four-year deal with the Dallas Mavericks for $94 million, and then joined Durant, Green and Thompson on USA Basketball’s 2016 team for the Rio de Janeiro Games.

When asked to reflect on his departure from the Warriors, Barnes said: “Coming into this series, there is a time to be reflective and there is a time to be present. Thinking back, I’ve never been in a playoff series that the Warriors weren’t involved. … The retrospective will take place after the series. But right now, it’s about staying focused and making sure as a group we are locked in.”

From left to right: Sacramento Kings forward Harrison Barnes shares a laugh with former teammates Stephen Curry and Gary Payton II of the Golden State Warriors after the Warriors’ 113-98 win at the Chase Center in San Francisco on Dec. 20, 2021.

Jane Tyska/Digital First Media/East Bay Times via Getty Images

Barnes was averaging 17.6 points per game for the Mavericks during the 2018-19 season when he was traded during a game to the then-rebuilding Kings in a multiplayer deal on Feb. 6, 2019. He opted out of his $25 million player option in the summer of 2019 and re-signed with Sacramento to a four-year, $85 million deal. Barnes could have asked out of Sacramento before the resurgence, but he stayed committed to the Kings and is reaping the benefits. The Kings not only made the playoffs for the first time since 2006, but also won the Pacific Division and a Western Conference-best 25 road games.

Barnes has actually played more games with the Kings than he did with the Warriors, averaging 15.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists in 317 regular-season games. The 11-year NBA veteran seems quite comfortable in Sacramento. His wife is from the Bay Area. But Barnes, whose agent Jeff Schwartz attended Game 2, will also be an unrestricted free agent this summer.

“The grass ain’t always greener. It’s greener wherever you water it,” Barnes said. “We’ve shown a lot of growth here. We’ve been able to play well this season. We’ve laid a foundation that has been happening over the years, and it’s good to be here.”

For now, Barnes is concentrating on getting the Kings past his old squad and is averaging 15 points and 6.5 rebounds in two games in this series. Barnes said the key to the Kings’ 2-0 lead is the ability to “play loose” despite their youth and focusing to “put it together for 48 minutes.” The Kings will arrive at what is expected to be a wild and emotional crowd at Chase Center for Game 3 Thursday night with the Warriors down 2-0 in a series for the first time since Curry joined the team in 2009 and will be playing without suspended forward Draymond Green.

Barnes’ message to his young Kings teammates is “continue to not be complacent.”

“Continue to do all the little things,” Barnes said. “Setting screens. Executing. When you play a team five, six, seven times, you can relax and let your guard down. You can think, ‘Oh, this is just another game.’ But the same energy we had the first quarter of Game 1 when everyone is going crazy, you still need that in Game 3 and down the stretch in Game 4, 5 and 6.

“The whole time this season when we talked about the playoffs, we didn’t want to be seen as a team that is just happy to be here. Obviously, this is a special moment for the fan base and organization to be in the playoffs. But at the same time, we feel like we are better than everybody.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.