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Former Tar Heel Harrison Barnes looks to bounce back in Rio

It has been a tough few months for Harrison Barnes. Now, he has a great opportunity to rebound in the Olympics.

Basketball: USA Basketball training Joshua Dahl-USA TODAY Sports

There are a lot of Tar Heels competing in the upcoming Rio Olympics. For the first time since the prime days of Vince Carter, a Tar Heel will take the court for the United States men’s basketball team: Harrison Barnes. Barnes was a surprise inclusion to many, mostly influenced by the many declines over the past few months from more established stars and players. Regardless of how much he deserves to be in Rio, Barnes is there now and certainly ready to make to start a new chapter in his professional career.

The past few months have been a whirlwind for Barnes, to say the least. A lot of negative attention and criticism surrounded him, as his shooting and consistency dropped drastically in the NBA Finals. He missed open three’s. He looked tentative with the ball in his hands or as the main option on the floor. He never truly showed up, and the Warriors ended up collapsing to the Cavaliers in seven games.

Following that, the conversation turned to whether or not Barnes even deserved a big new contract. Yes, he’s an athletic and intelligent talent, but will he ever amount to anything more than an above-average role player? It still seemed like he would end up back in Golden State, but Kevin Durant shocked the world and signed there. The team where Barnes spent his first four years, won a championship with, and appeared destined to build a core with no longer needed him.

Quickly, Barnes signed a maximum deal with the Dallas Mavericks, where he’ll be expected to be much more than the fourth option. It’d be great if he can be the number one guy for the Mavs, but he most likely at least has to be the second best player on the team to solidify the money he’s earning. Will Barnes be able to succeed as a top two guy after being the fourth or fifth guy in Golden State?

Well, his performance and attitude in the Olympics will begin to say a lot about Barnes and who he can be for Dallas. As mentioned previously, he barely made the team. But, that simple fact, in addition to representing his country, should motivate Barnes. He has been dumped on and criticized recently and playing well for the United States would do a lot to change that narrative.

As someone who barely made the team, Barnes will also probably be one of the last guys off the bench. This US team isn’t as stacked as it has been in recent international tournaments. Nonetheless, Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Paul George, and Draymond Green all sit ahead of Barnes on the depth chart. He won’t get a lot of minutes and, when he does, it will certainly be near the end of games with the outcome already decided. It’s not the optimum situation for Barnes to quiet his doubters, yet it might be the best one for him: low pressure against good competition. Barnes can be himself in those moments and not worry about anything else except for his basketball.

Moreover, more than just Barnes getting his shot and rhythm back this summer, the Olympics present an unfortunately awkward situation that can further push him. Barnes will be working out with, playing with, and hanging out with his former teammates Green and Klay Thompson, as well as the guy who replaced him, Durant. That won’t be fun for anyone, particularly Barnes. However, just being around those guys and seeing their relationship grow should make Barnes even hungrier and more desperate to prove them wrong. Barnes has the right head on his shoulders to make this uncomfortable scenario into a positive.

Barnes has all the talent and promise in the world. He’s just had struggles reaching it. He never quite did so in Chapel Hill and, at Golden State, he never had to try and live up to those massive expectations. If he can play confidently and without distraction in Rio, those three’s will start falling, his drives to the basket will be more effective and everyone will begin to see the versatile and deadly Barnes again. A good summer, even with limited minutes at the three or as a small-ball four, can translate to a bounce-back year for Barnes in Dallas.