Matt Barnes introduced as a Laker
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The Lakers weren't even able to enjoy their repeat championship for a month before the road ahead of them for a three-peat title became considerably less smooth with the formation of a giant speed bump down in South Beach.
By adding Matt Barnes, who was officially introduced as a Laker on Tuesday, they got a new set of chains for their tires to plow through the rocky terrain.
Los Angeles signed Barnes to a two-year deal worth approximately $3.6 million last week -- the money that was remaining from the mid-level exception after signing Steve Blake, another feisty addition, earlier in the month.
Barnes, who was involved in one of the more entertaining games of the Lakers' regular season last year, a 96-94 win by Orlando on March 7 that featured the 6-foot-7, 226-pound Barnes mix it up with Kobe Bryant, will now bring that relentless style of play as an asset on the Lakers bench, backing up Ron Artest at small forward.
"It's not really that I try to get under people's skin, I just, I play hard," Barnes said. "I kind of say I'm a football player playing basketball. I invite physical contact, I love it, I enjoy it and I respect all my opponents but I fear no one. That's kind of just the mentality that I take while I'm out there and whether or not that gets under people's skin or not, that's not really my goal. My goal is to win the game so that's what my focus will be."
Several events had to happen for Barnes to be welcomed to L.A.
First, Toronto and Orlando were not able to reach a final agreement on a sign-and-trade that seemed so in the bag that Barnes posted, "Nxt [sic] season I will b playing for the Toronto Raptors," on his Twitter account on July 19.
Later, Cleveland wouldn't bid against itself and refused to up its offer to Barnes, an offer that was reportedly worth double what the Lakers offered.
"Early on it didn't seem like we had the resources available to sign Matt and even when he became available at a lower number, I wasn't sure that ownership would commit but it didn't take long really for them to commit and I think that's a credit to Jim and Jerry Buss that they want to win," Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said. "They sense the implications of being in a position of winning three in a row and I'm sure, like the rest of us, we watch and see what's taking place in other cities with teams loading up, so the competitive nature kicks in."
Finally, Bryant played a part in recruiting the former UCLA Bruin Barnes, who Bryant has played summer basketball with for years on the UCLA campus. Barnes said he remembers being amazed while watching Bryant go through a full workout with just his left hand because his right hand was broken during one of those summer sessions at UCLA.
"With losing the Toronto opportunity, this opportunity re-opened up and as soon as that happened, Kobe and I started talking again," Barnes said. "I just told him, 'Hey, I really want to be a Laker,' and he said, 'Hey, I really want you,' and it kind of went from there."
Barnes, who will wear No. 9 for the Lakers, said he tracked down Bryant's phone number and opened up their line of communication with a text, but Bryant kept it open by expressing his interest in the seven-year veteran with career averages of 7.3 points and 4.4 rebounds per game.
"This kind of has already spread like wild fire, but he told me one day, 'Anyone crazy enough to [expletive] mess with me is crazy enough to play with me,' and he said, 'Let's get it done,'" Barnes said.
Kupchak said Barnes fits right in to the tough, defensive-minded ballclub that the team has been trying to become ever since losing in the 2008 Finals largely because of Boston's physical play.
"I think it was a conscious effort to get tougher," Kupchak said. "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. Andrew Bynum is incredibly important to us and I wouldn't say that you lump him into a category with Matt and Kobe and Ron, but he is a big, physical player and you need players on your team that provide that type of ability. I thought a couple years ago when Andrew 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."
Kupchak also said it doesn't surprise him that Bryant reached out to Barnes.
"I think he just respects the people that compete the hardest," Kupchak said. "I think what it says about him is he's not really in a popularity contest to make friends with players. He wants players that are going to stand beside him, behind him and compete as hard as he competes no matter what historical background they have. I think that's what it is; he just wants to win."
Rather than focus on his spotty past with Bryant, or Lamar Odom who he got into a Twitter feud with after that game in March, Barnes said he is "just looking forward to being a part of history," next season.
It's a history that could involve taking down a team that reaped the greatest harvest in the history of NBA free agency. His physicality on the wing should help against the two wings in Wade and James that will be attacking teams like the Lakers from both sides of the court for the Heat.
"To find three perimeter defenders in the league like myself, Ron and Kobe on the same team, you know, I say that Miami has a lot of power offensively, but we got the same offensively and we're tough on D as well," Barnes said. "I can't wait.
"Miami loaded up and did what they did to make their team better, but the Lakers didn't need to do much. They put a few pieces here that I feel that they felt were going to help their team and help establish a third championship and I hope to be one of those pieces that helps get that third straight title."
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After Barnes' press conference was completed, Kupchak met with a small group of reporters in the hallway of the Lakers practice facility. The GM said that talks between the team and free agent guard Shannon Brown's agent Mark Bartelstein remain ongoing and should be settled within the next "seven to 10 days." Brown has also received interest from the Cavaliers, according a league source. Brown opted out of his contract with the Lakers that would have paid him approximately $2.15 million next season.
Kupchak also provided updates on the Lakers injury front, confirming that Bynum is still scheduled for athroscopic knee surgery on Wednesday in New York and Bryant's rehabilitation after his recent right knee surgery is not a concern.
"We don't worry about Kobe in rehab," Kupchak said. "He's rehabbing with one of our people right now and one of the people that he's working with is one of our most trusted therapists, so that's all I know. The surgery went well, it wasn't a major surgery, he's mobile and he's getting therapy every day. We expect him back in training camp."
According to Kupchak, as time goes by the likelihood of Bryant undergoing any type of surgery on his injured right index finger that he fractured in December and later developed arthritis in the knuckles, decreases.
"He continues to see doctors [to look at the finger]," Kupchak said. "I have not heard an update regarding a surgery and as the summer goes on, obviously it's less and less a possibility as you get closer and closer to training camp."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter. http://twitter.com/mcten.