Matt Barnes could, or maybe should, be happy just to be along for the ride.
He escaped Sacramento and ended up with the Golden State Warriors and at 37, is two wins away from his first NBA Championship.
But if you think Barnes is content to wave a towel from he sidelines, you don’t know Barnes. His competitive drive has kept him in the league and it’s why he still wishes he could be on the court more during the NBA Finals. Yet that hasn’t kept Barnes from enjoying the Warriors’ historic run toward a championship, something that seemed improbable for him while still a King this season.
“It’s bittersweet from the standpoint that to get here (I’ve waited) my whole career,” Barnes said. “To be finally here and watching it is a little bittersweet. It’s a blessing for the opportunity as a veteran, staying ready is something I’ve been focusing on. I get in a a lot of extra work in between games and on off days. Overall, my ultimate goal, whether starting, coming off the bench or being just on the bench, I just wanted to experience this and have a chance to win and that’s what they’ve allowed me to do.”
Barnes has played late in both blowout wins by the Warriors in the Finals. He signed with the Warriors March 2 after being waived by the Kings, who needed his roster spot to accommodate the three players acquired in the DeMarcus Cousins trade with New Orleans.
Kevin Durant had just suffered a knee injury and the Warriors needed a veteran small forward to help out until Durant was healthy. Barnes is “thankful” the Warriors called.
“I was in a situation in Sacramento where there was really no hope at the end of the tunnel,” Barnes said. “The trade went down and to get picked up and be where I wanted to be the whole time, it’s an amazing experience, and we’ve got a couple of more games to finish up.”
Barnes starred at Del Campo High School but has always had an affinity for the Bay Area as a pro.
Ten years ago, Barnes was a part of the “We Believe” Golden State Warriors who stunned the No. 1 seed Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.
Last summer as a free agent Barnes wanted to be a Warrior, but signed a two-year deal with the Kings where the hope was to simply make the playoffs, a hope that was ditched when Cousins was traded.
Barnes played 20 games with five starts during the regular season, averaging 5.7 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.3 assists. Barnes was sidelined in the first round of the playoffs with an ankle injury and has appeared in nine postseason games.
“People forget in the period where Kevin was out he was really good for us,” said Warriors general manager Bob Myers. “He gave us some really good minutes, had some good stretches for us, been a good teammate.”
The experience has been surreal at times. Barnes was in uniform for these Warriors when the We Believe team was honored last month.
“I think we had something special here 10 years ago and to be able to have the opportunity to come back and surpass what we did obviously, take in the ultimate goal which is to win a championship, is just amazing,” Barnes said. “I still talk to those guys often and they’re vicariously living through me and when we win this ring this year it’s not just for me and my family, it’s for those guys.”
Myers said Barnes expressed his desire to return to Oakland and that the organization is always happy to see former players that want to be back with the team.
For Barnes, it was all about the opportunity to be a champion and return to a fan base that is widely considered among the best in the NBA.
“This is hands down probably one of the best organizations in the league now, but back then it wasn’t,” Barnes said. “But it was still, me being from here, and the love that I got, and the crowd support for this team throughout the years is something I definitely wanted to experience with this team, with a chance to win (a championship), and being here a second time around is even sweeter.”