Matt Barnes: Kobe sold me on Lakers
AP Sports Writer
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) – When Matt Barnes first texted Kobe Bryant about the possibility of joining the Los Angeles Lakers, Bryant surprised him by immediately texting back with emphatic encouragement.
Several dozen texts later, Barnes decided he could postpone his pursuit of a long-term NBA contract to aid Kobe’s chase for yet another championship.
“He said, ‘Anyone crazy enough to mess with me is crazy enough to play with me,”‘ Barnes said with a laugh.
Barnes formally agreed to a one-year, $1.7 million deal with the Lakers on Tuesday, holding up his gold No. 9 jersey at their training complex.
“It’s been a dream of mine since I was a young kid watching basketball to play with one of the best players ever in the game,” Barnes said.
After excelling with Orlando last season, the well-traveled swingman and 3-point shooter thought he might finally land a lucrative NBA contract this summer. The Sacramento native and UCLA product has been chasing such a deal since 2007, his breakout year with the Golden State Warriors.
Instead, the free-agent market passed him by while a potential deal with Toronto fell through and other teams filled their perimeter needs. Barnes is good, but still not quite good enough to command NBA security – but he thinks maybe a ring on his finger will help that quest in the future.
“It’s frustrating, because obviously you want that long-term security for your family,” Barnes said. “It would be nice to have that security and a place to call home … but God has a plan.”
The Lakers seemed an unlikely destination for Barnes, because they already have the NBA’s highest payroll.
But after Bryant’s pursuit of Raja Bell fell through when the rugged defender signed with Utah, Bryant went after Barnes, who earned his respect as a tough defender for the past several years while playing for every other team in the Pacific Division.
Bell and Barnes share a characteristic prized by Bryant: They’ve stood up to the two-time NBA finals MVP, not caring about his rings or his scoring prowess.
“(Bryant) just respects the people that compete the hardest,” Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said. “He’s not really in a popularity contest to make friends. He wants people beside him that compete and earn his respect. … I think it was a conscious effort to get tougher.”
Barnes has been impressed by Bryant’s work ethic ever since he saw Bryant’s left-handed workouts at Pauley Pavilion several years ago while Kobe had an injured right hand.
“After eight years, I’m finally done guarding him, except in practice,” Barnes said. “Now he’s going to be hitting those game-winning shots for us.”
Kupchak found enough money to sign Barnes in the remainder of Los Angeles’ $5.7 million midlevel salary cap exception, although $4 million already was committed to backup point guard Steve Blake. Barnes has a player option for next year, but if he excels for a successful team, he can go after that long-term security again next summer.
Barnes believes he can provide grit and scoring off the Lakers’ bench, which has been markedly upgraded and toughened in July with Blake and veteran shot-blocker Theo Ratliff preceding Barnes. The three veterans are no strangers to hard-knocks hoops and tough playoff games.
“You’ve got to always look at the team that won the championship as the favorite (again),” Barnes said. “Miami loaded up and made their team better, and L.A. didn’t have to do much. I hope to be one of those little pieces that helps us get back there.”
The Lakers are Barnes’ eighth NBA team heading into his eighth season. He has worn the uniform of all four of California’s NBA teams, and he scored a career-best 10.2 points per game for Phoenix in the 2008-09 season.
One of Barnes’ many tattoos reads “Sac Town’s Finest,” but he acknowledged something that’s considered sacrilege in his Northern California hometown: He grew up rooting for the Lakers and Magic Johnson in the 1980s.
“Golden State was OK, the Sacramento Kings were (new), but the Lakers were always on top,” Barnes said.
The deal is a second straight free-agent signing at a near-bargain price for Los Angeles, which has 11 veterans under contract. Kupchak also said he has “a good feeling” about re-signing high-flying guard Shannon Brown for the final roster spot, expecting a resolution to the negotiations in the next 7-10 days.
“That’s all a credit to Dr. (Jerry) Buss and the family,” Kupchak said of the Lakers’ ownership. “They want to win, and we all feel the opportunity to win three in a row.”
Second-round draft picks Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter also have a shot to make the roster in training camp after performing well in summer-league ball, particularly if Luke Walton’s injured back doesn’t heal.
Kupchak had no updates on Bryant’s operation on his right knee, which was performed by a doctor who doesn’t work for the Lakers. The GM said the Lakers trust Bryant to make his own medical decisions, and the superstar already is rehabbing with team staff.
“He’s working with one of our most trusted therapists,” Kupchak said. “He’s mobile, and we expect him back for training camp.”