Ball Don't Lie - NBA



It's important for Laker fans to know what they're getting, in Matt Barnes(notes).

To start, they're getting the perfect complement to their already-stacked squad. They're getting someone who is versatile enough to work toward whatever the team is badly lacking, given a particular context, off the bench. Shots, D, finishes, boards, whatever. They're getting someone who is working on a relatively bargain'ish basis, and best of all? They're getting someone, and you watch this, that will absolutely cherish his time under coach Phil Jackson.

This isn't to be dismissed or joked about. The nuttier acts of our generation, should they have a cell or two up there, tend to take to Phil. And while Barnes might sneer for spells and play the Lee Marvin-type a bit much, this is still a cerebral cat who knows the game, loves his role, and wants to win. And though Raja Bell(notes) might use vegetable stock in his risotto and seem to be fast friends with one Kobe Bean Bryant, believe me, short of Bell, Matt Barnes is the best sort of edgy wing-type the Lakers could hope to bring in.

Now, the iffy parts. In relative terms, to his reputation.

Barnes comes off as a 3-point shooter. Which makes sense, because he takes a ton of 3-point shots; 4.4 per game, the year before last with the Suns, which is pretty amazing even considering Phoenix's pace, because Matt was only working at 27 minutes per game. Barnes dropped that to 2.6 per game last year with Orlando, in about 26 minutes per game, which we appreciated.

We appreciated it because he's a career 32.9 percent 3-point shooter. And he shot a miss lower than 32 percent last year. Don't leave him open, defenders, but don't expect a gimmie or even an average mark, Laker fans. And before you wonder if a run with the Kobes and Paus of the world will help things, pass. Barnes played with Dwight Howard(notes) last year, and the Suns and Warriors before that. Kobe and Pau will find the guy, there will be open shots, but just thank your lucky stars if he even sniffs an average mark.

And his defense?

He works hard. He snarls. He gets in your mug, and he'll start a fight or eight. This guy is an enforcer, and every team needs an enforcer. You don't want Ron Artest(notes) to be your enforcer, because Ron legitimately has rage issues, and you don't want things going too far. These aren't jokes, this is just how this thing works. Barnes is an enforcer that you'd actually want to talk to, after the game.

Matt is in control. And he'll push a guy or two in order to restore NBA-styled "order." But he's not a lock-down defender. Far from it.

He is a terrific defender, just nowhere near the ranks of Ron, or Bruce Bowen(notes), or Shane Battier(notes).

Barnes is, above all, a versatile wing. Can get hot from the outside, rebounds well, defends expertly, and can catch and finish in transition. He's not lights-out from behind the arc or in defending opponents, but he's good enough in nearly every area to call this deal an absolute bargain. Even if the guy only plays 17 minutes per game.

The one thing you have to look at is turnovers. Barnes turns the rock over, incessantly.

He knows this. I've never seen a player mouth "my bad" as much as Matt, and I'm not having a go at this. The guy consistently loses the ball, or makes a bum pass, and raises his hand in the air so everyone knows — that he knows — that this was his fault. I don't think that will preclude him from learning the triangle offense, but turnover issues will sustain. People just don't get rid of those tendencies, at this age.

Because, amongst small forwards, only James Johnson(notes) (rookie; knows kung-fu), Trenton Hassell(notes) (terrible), and Julian Wright(notes) (doesn't care) turned it over more per possession than Barnes last year. Ron Artest was tied for 25th in that particular area, but 25th ain't fourth, if you dig. And I know you do.

And you should dig Barnes in Los Angeles. As an impartial hoophead, I'm into it. I have a feeling that, championship or not, he'll have the time of his life there.

***



Kurt Thomas(notes) will never have the time of his life.

The man will never smile, he'll never let you know he's anything but angry, or bemused (either by that TERRIBLE call, or some opponent's attempt to get all up in that); but he'll never crack a sincere smile off the court. For all I know, the newest Chicago Bulls signing wears a red clown nose to bed and enjoys relaxing to a good Paul Reiser-led situation comedy, but he's never going to let you know on the court that he's enjoying himself.

Which I can't blame him for.

You see, this guy's career was supposed to be over, 11 years ago.

Not a few years ago. Not this summer, because he's old and he played with the next governor of Oregon (seriously watched these two play one on one after a Knick practice one time, and it was the worst "to 11, win by two" three hours of my life), or whatever jokes and jokes and jokes you want to toss out there. No, 11 years ago — maybe 12 — this guy was supposed to be done.

After a solid rookie year, Thomas dealt with a series of foot injuries that knocked out his second and third seasons. The guy played in just 23 games, between stints with the Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks, while dealing with what at the time was termed a career-ending obstacle.

Don Nelson, seeing in his presence a smart guy whose parents were both college professors, smartly decided to make Thomas his hopeful protégé. A guy to run things, when Nellie ran off for good to Hawaii (though, clearly, this will never happen).

Thomas spent most of 1997-98 — think about how long ago that was, if you want to make me feel a hundred years old — as one of Nellie's assistant coaches. A Phil Jackson-type with a clipboard, waiting the contract out, ready to jump into the sideline ranks.

The problem was, Thomas wasn't ready. He worked his tail off, overcame the foot issues, and ended up playing 50 out of 50 lockout-shortened games for the Knicks in 1999. Nellie — according to one of the two New York City tabloids that I was reading on a 28.8k modem back in 1999 — was ticked, but Thomas didn't care. Nor should he have.

More than 10 years later, here we are. I'm a Bulls fan, I told a buddy of mine about the Thomas signing Thursday night, and he gives me a high five. Nobody, in the decade since, has reacted to the news about their favorite team acquiring Thomas' rights, and reacted with anything but a positive remark. That's a testament to his skills, his smarts and his drive.

And we're lucky we've gotten to witness it over the last decade. People forget how close we were to missing out.

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