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In U.S. quest for gold medal, Barnes looking from outside

Mavericks forward playing alongside newly ex-teammates Green and Thompson while they bond with new Warriors star Durant

POSTED: Jul 29, 2016 7:39 AM ET

By Steve Aschburner

BY Steve Aschburner

NBA.com

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Harrison Barnes (right) remains close to his former Golden State teammates on Team USA's roster.

Harrison Barnes is in the midst of one of the most remarkable experiences of his young life.

And yet, if we found out he was packing a voodoo doll in his USA Basketball duffel bag, could anyone really blame him?

Just 24 years old, after four memorable seasons with the Golden State Warriors (one NBA championship, two trips to the Finals, a 239-90 record), Barnes is one of 12 elite players invited to play for USA Basketball, the men's national team that is a heavy favorite to win a third straight gold medal in the 2016 Olympics next month in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. That crew has been barnstorming through American cities for the past week -- Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Oakland -- and will face Venezuela Friday night at United Center in the fourth of five exhibitions scheduled before Rio.

But to the buzz within the buzz about Team USA, though, Barnes is an outsider.

The No. 1 subplot since this group convened for training camp July 18 in Las Vegas has been the sneak peek we're getting of Kevin Durant, the NBA's most coveted free agent of 2016, playing alongside new Golden State teammates, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.

Durant's decision on July 4 to leave Oklahoma City -- the only franchise he's known, the guys who nearly knocked off the Warriors in the Western Conference finals -- and sign with the team that beat OKC has been the biggest story of the offseason so far. The Warriors went 73-9 to set an NBA record, boasted both the two-time Kia Most Valuable Player (Stephen Curry) and the Coach of the Year (Steve Kerr) -- and now have added, in his prime, a four-time scoring champ who was the league's MVP just two seasons ago.

Just because you go to a different team doesn't mean the relationship is over. Harrison? We won a championship together. We're linked together forever.

– Draymond Green, on former Warriors teammate Harrison Barnes

They did it at Barnes' expense, too, recruiting Durant for the job that had been his.

So Barnes is spending five weeks this summer with his nose pressed against the proverbial glass. When Team USA played at Oracle Arena Tuesday night, the fans there gave him a warm and classy reception, an unofficial sendoff. But the excitement was all about Durant, with Green and Thompson on the floor with their new star and Curry and Andre Iguodala in street clothes, soaking in the possibilities from the front row.

"The fans were great," Barnes said Thursday before Team USA's practice. "Showed a lot of love. Everyone was super-polite."

Real Training Camp: Harrison Barnes

Mavericks' forward Harrison Barnes speaks with NBA TV's Jared Greenberg following practice.

Polite is nice. But after four years of building something special in Oakland, to be replaced in a matter of a few hectic days at the start of July ...

Fortunately, Barnes' new ex-teammates know how important they've all been to each other.

"Just because you go to a different team doesn't mean the relationship is over," Green said Thursday. "Harrison? We won a championship together. We're linked together forever. We've been through some stuff. We had a first-round exit together, we've had a second-round exit together. We won a championship, we lost a championship. You don't just wash that away because someone goes to a different team. That's there -- and it'll be there forever."

Said Thompson: "It's weird. It's like the last chapter we'll play together in our basketball careers. But we're embracing it. HB's a great guy. It's a friendship that will last for a lifetime. I'm proud of him. He's only scratched the surface of what he can do. I'm happy for him, and me and Draymond are happy for one more go-round because he really is a great teammate."

Barnes owns some of the responsibility for how this all played out. While he was quoted in an ESPN.com story this week as saying, "The decision was more so made for me," Barnes could have pre-empted the head-spinning events of early July by accepting Golden State's offer last summer of a four-year, $64 million contract extension.

He and his representatives gambled correctly, as far as the 6-foot-8 forward's market value in what admittedly was the most crazed, money-fueled market the NBA ever has seen (the salary cap jumped from $70 million last season to $94.1 million for 2016-17 thanks to revenue from a new TV contract). Barnes signed an offer sheet with the Dallas Mavericks for four years, $95 million.

But he's changing employers and relocating to get it. The Warriors, with Durant, already are heavy favorites to return to the Finals for the third time and win back the title that slipped away to Cleveland in June. The Mavericks? They figure to be jockeying for one of the lower playoff berths in the West.

"He always embraces a new challenge," Thompson said of Barnes. "He wants to be one of those go-to guys. I'm excited for him. He's going to do great things in Dallas."

Thompson was starting his second season when Barnes and Green showed up as rookies in 2012. "I hadn't really seen anyone work harder than Harrison," the Warriors shooting guard said. "At 20 years old, you felt like he was 30 years old and had eight years under his belt already. That's how seasoned he was and how he took care of stuff. You didn't have to teach him how to be a pro -- he came into this league and knew how to."

Barnes Bangs

Harrison Barnes delivers the strong hammer on the baseline cut.

Barnes, raised in Ames, Iowa, before playing at North Carolina, has come off the bench in three games, averaging 5.6 points. He had a bigger role but not much more production for the Warriors in the playoffs, averaging 9.0 points and 31.0 minutes while shooting 38.5 percent.

Durant is Team USA's leading scorer, averaging 18.3 points in about 19 minutes per game. But coach Mike Krzyzewski has done a good job of spreading around the minutes, encouraging all 12 players to "bring their egos" and assert themselves when they're on the court, so that none of them feels like an afterthought.

There is, they contend, a goal greater than who's teaming up with whom in the NBA next season.

"I think some people view it as, 'Aw, this is your last time to play with Harrison' or 'your first time to play with KD.' But we don't view it that way," Green said. "We're trying to get the gold medal. Nobody cares that KD just came to the Warriors or Harrison just left. The game in Vegas, me, KD and Klay was on the floor together. I didn't even notice. We were just playing. 'Cause it's not important right now.

"We're not going to try to clique this team up. This team has gotten really close, really fast. To try to clique it up and create a divide, you don't do that. We all got the same goal. That's Aug. 21, winning the gold medal. Everything else is secondary."

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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