Matt Barnes settles in with Lakers
LOS ANGELES -- It was an unfortunate oversight, but completely accidental. Which is why Matt Barnes was allowed to enter and exit the Lakers locker room Thursday night wearing a Kelly green dress shirt.
"People have been giving me a hard time all night," Barnes said. "I mean, it's green. But it's not Celtic green."
Laughs, not sympathy, met that statement. But Barnes stood his ground, finished buttoning his shirt and apologized to no one for the fashion transgression.
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The Los Angeles Lakers are the 11th team Barnes has been with in his nine years in the NBA, so forgive him if it takes him a couple of months to get all the new traditions, fashion faux pas and rivalries of his new team down.
Barnes now has history with more than a third of the NBA's 30 teams. He's never spent more than two seasons with any organization. He's never signed a contract worth more than $3 million in any season.
"I wish I had the answer to it, I really do," he said. "By no means am I struggling, but for a guy that's been doing what I've been doing, I've yet to really reap the benefits.
"I wish I had the answer because my bank account could use a little bit."
Tonight's game against the Phoenix Suns, the team he played for in 2008-09, is yet another rematch against a former team that did not try to keep him after a productive season.
This one's likely going to go smoothly. The Suns had their reasons for letting Barnes go.
"I guess I can understand why it didn't work out," he said of his time with the Suns. "They'd gone to the playoffs so many years in a row. But that was the year they fired Terry Porter halfway through the year and didn't make the playoffs. So I can kind of understand that situation because they're used to winning and I was there and we didn't win."
But not every reunion is going to be a happy one.
"Orlando didn't offer me a dollar," he said of the Orlando Magic, the team he played for last season.
"But they're paying for it now. When they played [the] Heat, I saw them get blown out because they couldn't handle the wings. I feel for the guys on the team but it's definitely a business."
Some wounds heal slowly. Scars never fade. Barnes doesn't bother trying to hide his.
"Since I got an opportunity to play in Golden State [in 2006-07], I've put together four or five solid seasons with no real rewards," he said. "Luckily I've landed here. And when you win everything happens so hopefully good things come from [being here]."
He said it like he meant it. But he also said it like a guy who has been let down before and has learned to trust only in his own effort and abilities. "I really wish I knew the answer to it. But I just continue to play hard," he said.
You get the sense that it has been a difficult existence. He has fought for every inch of territory he's claimed. And even then, it was only his space for a short time.
He fought his way into the league after being a second-round pick out of UCLA in 2002 and getting traded and then cut by his first two teams. He spent four seasons languishing at the end of the bench and deciding whether to quit basketball and try out for the NFL.
Finally, Don Nelson and the Golden State Warriors gave him a chance to play a more prominent role. He came to camp on a nonguaranteed deal with a club that already had 16 players on guaranteed deals. Somehow, Barnes scrapped his way onto the team. And when injuries opened up more playing time, he made it impossible for the Warriors to let him go.
After his first season in Golden State, he had a chance to sign a multiyear extension. In a market in which Jason Kapono was getting a four-year, $24 million contract from the Toronto Raptors, Barnes believed he was worth more. So he passed on it, signed a one-year deal for $3 million and decided to try again the next summer.
Barnes moved on to the Suns on another one-year deal. The next year he left for Orlando, had a good enough year to opt out and try for a better contract, but was spurned again when the Magic made no effort to re-sign him.
Los Angeles Lakers
The never-ending fight has left him with an unmistakable edge which is exactly why the Lakers wanted him.
"What he brings is invaluable," Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said. "Nobody really appreciates what he does. He's got to get on teams like ours that are veteran teams, championship teams, great teams, that really appreciate what he brings to the team."
The Lakers have some scars that never fade, too. As sweet as their last two championship runs have been, there will always be the sour memory of what happened three years ago in Boston, where the Celtics basically punked them in the NBA Finals.
"I think it was a conscious effort to get tougher," Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said at Barnes' introductory news conference this fall. "We didn't add [Ron Artest] because he's a 25-points-a-game scorer, we added him because of his defensive ability [and] his toughness that he brings to the court.
"I thought a couple years ago when Andrew [Bynum] got hurt we weren't very, I guess 'tough' is the word; Kobe may have been our toughest player, but Andrew came back this year and we added Ron Artest and now Matt Barnes is going to help even more so."
It was Bryant, as the story goes, who helped grease the wheels to get Barnes to Los Angeles.
Barnes sent a text. Bryant said he'd make a call. The deal got done, and whatever animosity there had been between the men after a contentious game in Orlando last season was buried.
"There was no need for apologies," Bryant said. "We're grown men. He reached out and wanted to know what was up. I made a call and got him here. It's as simple as that.
"I appreciate what he does. It's not like somebody just called and I made a call. If I didn't think he fit, I would've told them, 'Thanks but no thanks.' I don't have time for that [stuff]. If I don't think you fit, then that's it."
So far, Barnes has fit well with the Lakers. He's still learning the triangle offense. But he's accepted his role with the second unit, shot well from outside and hustled, scrapped and clawed for every inch of territory, just as the Lakers expected.
Now, about that green shirtRamona Shelburne is a columnist and writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow her on Twitter.
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