Upon his arrival in Los Angeles, Matt Barnes immediately gave the Lakers something that they lacked: an edge. Known for his pesky defense, cat-like athleticism and tattoo-covered body, signing Barnes brought an uncommon persona to STAPLES Center. While the combination of Barnes and a vibrant Lakers uniform took some getting used to, his energetic style of play did not – and acted as a new and refreshing component to the Lakers and their hopes at a three-peat.
Almost immediately, Barnes found his place in Lakers-Land, and he had his coming out party during a Nov. 2 contest against the Memphis Grizzlies, when he posted 16 points and 14 rebounds. Instantaneously, he became a key member of the Lakers bench mob (now referred to as the “Killer B’s”), he was the perfect player for tough defensive assignments when Kobe and Artest needed a breather – a piece the Lakers had lacked during the previous three seasons.
He was never a bonafide scorer for the Lakers, and no one expected him to be. He was simply another key ingredient to a successful game plan – hit open shots, play tough defense and do everything with energy. He encapsulated all of those elements in his game, and for the first couple months of the NBA season, the Lakers’ bench was rolling, and the new and improved reserves were a large contributor to the Lakers’ success.
Unfortunately, Barnes and the Lakers would experience a major setback less than a week into the the new year. In a game against the New Orleans Hornets, Barnes went down with what appeared to be a sprained knee; however, after an MRI, it was revealed that he had suffered torn knee cartilage that would require surgery and multiple weeks of rehabilitation.
After missing 26 consecutive games, Barnes returned to the court on March 6, and the Lakers picked up a much-needed win over the then league-leading San Antonio Spurs. The Lakers went on to win 10 of their next 11 games, and although Barnes was back in uniform, it took him a few weeks to catch his wind and return his body to game shape.
But perhaps Barnes’ most memorable moment of the 2010-11 season was his participation in an incident that resulted in a one-game suspension for the inked up small forward. During a Lakers’ blow out of the Dallas Mavericks (woah, didn’t get to say those words during the postseason), a scuffle broke out between Lakers’ guard Steve Blake and the Mavericks’ Jason Terry. Barnes’ tempers flared immediately and after shoving Mavs’ Assistant Coach Terry Stotts to the floor, he was ejected and was handed a one-game ban.
While suspension is never good, the fight and warrior spirit displayed by the Lakers during that game was something out of the ordinary for the team who coasted through the entire season (playoffs included). While it’s questionable whether or not Barnes shoved Stotts with purposeful intent, the incident only revealed his passion and deep emotion for the game – a quality that Lakers players other than Kobe Bryant rarely put on display.
While Barnes will have the option of switching teams during the offseason, there’s no doubt that he made a positive impact on the Lakers this season. Although his presence didn’t lead to a third-consecutive title for the Lakers, it nonetheless provided a much needed sense of edginess for a relatively reserved squad.
As for a grade, the only grade that makes sense for Barnes is an INCOMPLETE. While he did play in the majority of the Lakers’ games, he did miss a 27 games over the course of the season, and although he may not add a double-digit number of wins to a team’s total, who knows if his absence contributed to certain losses over the course of the season? I know that he will be welcomed back to the Purple and Gold with open arms next season, but with free agency in his sights, that is an outcome that will ultimately be up to Matt Barnes.