The NBA is a beautiful place when Matt Barnes is playing on a team that is a playoff long shot. His addition to the Sacramento Kings and his return to the state of California means there will be plenty of dramatic moments in Sacramento that have nothing to do with the new arena. The Kings will try to blend the new pieces with the old- a sullen Rudy Gay, a want everyone to think he is reformed Ty Lawson, a gold medal winner DeMarcus Cousins- which means Matt Barnes will have plenty of opportunities for his in-game stare downs and technical fouls and angry soundbites that will became social media testimonies to the ability of Barnes to make people laugh and cry at the same time. Barnes encompasses both love and hate. How you feel about him says something about you. Conformist or non-conformist? The right way or this way? Soft spoken or loud as hell?
The outspoken Barnes let his feelings be known about Colin Kapernick. “What bothers me is the people that have a problem with him actually peacefully protesting but don’t have a problem with the cops killing these innocent black people day to day.”
Every team Matt Barnes has been on, and they are a lot of them, as many teams as you have fingers: the Clippers, Kings, Knicks, 76ers, Warriors, Suns, Magic, Lakers, Clippers Pt. II, Grizzlies, Kings Pt. II, has had to deal with the Matt Barnes fury and the Matt Barnes comedy. He is funny. He is angry. He is everything in between. Teammates love a player who thinks the game is life and death and plays with the kind of passionate energy that oozes out the pores and swallows the oxygen in the room. And yet players get frustrated with a teammate who can’t seem to handle his emotions in big moments, who can’t get out of his own way. Matt Barnes is 36 years old and we are still asking: is he mature? Is he the grownup in the room?
This time last year, during training camp, Barnes got into it with Derek Fisher, a fight that entertained social media until it blew up into a firestorm. When the details came out (Barnes is still ticked that Fisher snitched) and it was revealed that Barnes punched Fisher in the face because Fisher was involved romantically with Barnes estranged wife, a woman he no longer lives with but who he has children with, sides were taken. Barnes was defending the man code. Fisher was a punk. Or. Barnes was a thoughtless thug. Fisher was a victim.
Barnes’ act of violence fit in with the Barnes football player emotionally reactive persona, an identify he has crafted and clung to like a drowning man holding on to a raft since his debut in 2003 with the Clippers. That Barnes couldn’t let the Fisher thing go after the fact, that he constantly had to rub it in Fisher’s face that he kicked his a____ because Fisher broke the man code was also a Matt Barnes thing to do. Payback is sweet.
Enter superstar musician Drake. He was spotted wearing a Derek Fisher jersey and then he threw shade at Barnes on Twitter. It’s not that Drake is taking sides in the Barnes/Fisher beef that is old news but last summer Barnes implied he was dating Rhianna when he wasn’t. Drake is involved with Rhianna now and so while in L.A. Drake thought it would be funny to drag out the Fisher jersey to get under Barnes skin, the same way Barnes gets under his opponents skin by needling them on the court.
The Lakers have hired Derek Fisher for their in-studio analyst position, pairing him with James Worthy. It would be epic theater if the analysts took the road trip to Las Vegas during the preseason, and Sacramento in the regular season, when the two teams play, so Fisher would be on the same court as Barnes, Fisher talking while Barnes is in warm ups. (Barnes reputation for zero impulse control is legendary). It would be a Snapchat moment. What would happen next? Clearly with the Kings and Lakers not doing much this season, that would be more interesting than what happens on the court.
As for the court, Barnes is going to give the Kings an identity. He can still defend. He’s emotional and passionate and that kind of basketball-is-war mentality filters down. It infects the team. However, his three point shooting was off last season.
Last year, Matt Barnes had the second lowest field goal percentage of his career. But he was still an active rebounder and moved the ball in and out the post. He was a good teammate.
Adding Matt Barnes to the roster means he is going to act irrationally on the court at times, he is going to get techinicals, he is going to make 3-point shots when they count, he is going to get into it with opposing fans, he is going to keep it real because he doesn’t care about getting fined. Barnes is so old school. He doesn’t play into the social media game of image control. He is tough. He wants everyone to know it. He has a like me or don’t attitude.
He thinks (and many agree) the NBA is soft. “I equate it to going from the NFL to flag football. You can’t touch people, you can’t breathe on people, you get fouls for looking at people the wrong way. And it is disappointing to the pure NBA fans that remember how physical and how competitive the game used to be. It’s just a different game now.”
Yes. It is a different game now. But is Matt Barnes a different player? Has he adapted to the game’s evolution? Or is he in a perennial fight to be an old school tough guy in a finesse Steph Curry league?
It’s neither here nor there for Barnes who is unapologetically himself 24-7. That’s who the Kings are getting this season, what they have to deal with, the good and the frustrating California native Matt Barnes.
photo via llananba