For most of the season, Kobe Bryant made a point of noting the Lakers were a championship caliber team, but working with very little margin for error.
In the playoffs, an important chunk of it went away with the disappearance of Matt Barnes. The team's most consistent bench presence throughout the season, Barnes was playing some of the best basketball of his career down the stretch, averaging 8.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 3.2 assists over 26.8 minutes in 13 April games before suffering a sprained ankle against Oklahoma City in the second-to-last regular season game.
He never recovered. Barnes' playoff averages plummeted to 3.5 points on a terrifying 27.1 percent mark from the floor, including only 16.1 percent from downtown. Things were so bad, Mike Brown sat him entirely in Monday's Game 5 loss. Wednesday in El Segundo, Barnes admitted he wasn't fully healthy in either playoff series, and it wasn't just the bum ankle.
"What I tell you now isn’t going to be used as an excuse by any means, because I’m not like that, but the ankle didn’t heal and then I did something to my neck where I had to take some shots to even move my neck," Barnes said. "It’s still sore, but the way I look at it is you’re hard pressed to find anybody at this point in the season that’s healthy. So you can never use that [as an excuse]."
Adding insult to injury was the way in which his neck was injured.
"I was lying down on the floor icing my ankle, and I was about to get up and one of my sons jumped on me, and just did something," he said. "It was right before Denver came here. Before our first [playoff] game."
Kids do the darndest things, right?
For Barnes, the ankle and neck problems were particularly frustrating after a 2011 postseason run marred by a knee injury similarly limiting his contributions. That makes him 0-2 in postseason runs with the Lakers, and entering yet another free agent year, he knows this could have been his last go in purple and gold.
"I know probably better than anybody this is a business," Barnes, who has played for nine teams in a nine year career said. "When you don’t win here, changes are made. With that said, I’d like to return but I have to sit down with my family and my agent, and kind of see what the cards hold.
The 32-year old Barnes hinted he might have to make business considerations a higher priority in his contract negotiations this summer.
“I don’t know. The last few teams I’ve went to, it was in search of a ring, and have fallen short. I’ve always turned down a significant amount of money to do that. So that’s something we’ll have to sit down and see," he said.
Asked if he regretted passing up the better offers he referenced to play with the Lakers, Barnes was emphatic.
“No," he said. "I was a Laker fan growing up, so when the opportunity to come here [happened], you know anything [more] than free -- I wouldn’t have come for free -- it wouldn’t have took much to get me here because it’s been a dream of mine. The talent and the history they have here have been great for me, and it’s something I want to be a part of."
Asked if management gave him any indication about their plans for next year, Barnes essentially punted, meaning they didn't. Short on available dollars, the Lakers aren't likely to go over market in years or dollars to keep him around, so if Barnes gets a contract he likes from another team, I suspect he'll jump. Still, a return isn't out of the question. The Lakers were able to sign him a couple summers back in part because he was among the last free agents still in the pool, holding out for bigger offers that never came. Should that happen again and the Lakers still have a need at small forward, they could certainly do worse. Barnes has given the Lakers exactly what you'd expect from him in his two seasons here, and at the right price is handy to have around.
Still, he carried himself Wednesday like a guy who thinks he's gone, and chances are he's right.
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