Tuesday afternoon in El Segundo, Matt Barnes was officially introduced as a member of the Lakers. He will wear number 9, and seemed extremely excited to don this particular jersey. Barnes described becoming a Laker as a "lifelong dream," having grown up in California a huge fan of the Showtime era. The small forward has relocated a lot over his career. How often? Well, according to Elias Sports Bureau, Barnes is the first player in NBA history to play for all four California teams. But all roads led here, and as he said, it's been a "hell of a road to get here, but I'm glad to be a Laker."
Among the talking points...
- When the Lakers announced the signing, my biggest apprehension was Barnes not getting enough playing time to suit his fancy. This was eased to some degree after Mitch Kupchak said PT never came up during their meeting, which is pretty unusual. Matt's comments mirrored his General Manager's version of the story. "It doesn't really matter to me," insisted the newbie, who's fine with being Ron Artest's backup. "I just want to able to contribute any way I can. I'm coming to a team that's won two straight titles. I hope to be just a small piece to help them win number three."
- Barnes is noted for a defensive style capable of getting under an opponent's skin. Barnes, however, insists irritated opponents may be a byproduct of his physicality, but not the objective "I just play hard," explained the forward. "I'm a football player playing basketball... I respect all my opponents, but I fear no one. That's kinda just the mentality I take while I'm out there. Whether that gets under people's skin or not, that's not really my goal. My goal is to win the game."
By the way, I don't believe a word he's saying, but the sincerity while delivering manure was impressive.
Along those lines, the much ballyhooed brouhaha between him and a certain shooting guard isn't just ancient history. It actually was nothing to begin with. "Me and Kobe are cool," clarified Barnes. "I think the media kind of made it more than it was." From Barnes' perspective, it was just competitors refusing to concede an inch. That's all in the past, and Barnes is happy to back up Kobe instead of trying to back him down:
"I couldn't ask to fight with a better competitor."
- That aforementioned tussle, along with his Twitter battle with Lamar Odom, may be yesterday's news to Barnes, but Lakers fans haven't been as quick to forgive. The Laker Nation hasn't exactly opened its collective arms via Twitter. Barnes doesn't sweat the frigid reception, writing it off as a loyal fan base taking up for the squad he now represents. "Just respect what I'm about, and I'll win a lot of people over with the way I play," assured the small forward.
- In the meantime, Barnes has already won over the most important member of the Lakers. No, not Sasha Vujacic. Kobe. Barnes and Bryant exchanged many a text during the offseason, with the Mamba enthusiastically offering his blessing for the journeyman to come aboard. "He told me one day anyone crazy enough to 'explicit word' mess with me is crazy enough to play with me," smiled Barnes, obviously a fan of the future Hall of Famer. The former Bruin shared a great story about Bryant dropping by the UCLA gym to get his sweat on. Kobe had a broken right hand, but completed the whole workout as a southpaw.
"It was kind of crazy," marveled Barnes. "He's one of those chosen ones."
Still, Barnes' admiration for 24 didn't leave him too starstruck to initiate text conversations, nor was he intimidated at the prospect of Bryant telling him thanks, but no thanks. "I'm a man, you know," shrugged Barnes. "If he wasn't feeling it, he would have told me no, and I would have been cool with that. We just would have been back at war against each other next year."
- I asked Barnes if moving so often in his career has been a source of frustration. Yes, but he's chosen to look at the bright side of his constant migration. Not everyone gets to play with Allen Iverson, Shaquille O'Neal, Grant Hill, Steve Nash, Dwight Howard, Vince Carter, and now Kobe.
- Barnes specifically mentioned the Miami Heat as a team potentially stymied by the defensive presence of himself, Kobe and Artest on the wings.
- Asked about the most memorable of his countless tattoos, Barnes chose two. The first, located on his neck, is the footprints and names of his twin boys, who he labeled "the best thing that ever happened to me." The second, still being drawn up as we speak, will eventually honor his mother, who died in 2007 from cancer. "That would be 1a and 1b."
- I couldn't help but notice how soft spoken Barnes is. Between his hard edged appearance/reputation and the oncourt antics of a player who seems like he takes his coffee with extra methamphetamine, you wouldn't expect such a docile vibe. But the dude was pretty laid back and friendly. Obviously, he has nothing to be particularly intense about during such a happy occasion, and this certainly may not be indicative of his moods over the course of an 82 game season. But as someone who's wondered before if Barnes might be a little too goony bird for his own good, it nonetheless caught my eye.