The pressure won’t be on Matt Barnes with the Kings this year to put the ball in the basket all that much, or to rip it off the boards, or to zing it around the perimeter, or even to keep the other team’s guys from doing all those things with it.
Oh, Barnes can still score, rebound, pass and defend. You don’t survive for 13 years at the game’s highest level if you don’t have talent and toughness. And nobody signs you to a new, two-year deal at age 36, as the Kings did with Barnes, if you can’t play.
It’s just that Barnes brings a value to the Kings that goes way beyond the stat sheet.
First and foremost for Barnes, he is considered a terrific teammate.
“It’s not hard,” Barnes said.
Maybe, but in the Kings’ years of failed experiments in the mastery of group dynamics, one thing that’s been missing is they have not had anybody quite like Barnes to bring everybody together.
We’re not talking about being a nice guy. Leo Durocher pointed out where nice guys finish in this mean old world – way out of the money.
The great teammate, instead, pushes everybody around him and her to sacrifice their individuality toward the achievement of a collective goal. They do it through the force of example and the power of verbal persuasion, and they’ll take on anybody from the best player on the team to the 12th man to make it happen.
“Sometimes you find there are cliques on teams and certain guys mess with certain guys, and to me, we’re all family and we’re all supposed to have the same goals,” Barnes said in an interview in the sunny living room of his new Sacramento-area home. “To me, it’s bringing guys together, breaking down walls, communicating to certain people when certain people can’t communicate to them.
“I think I have a unique way of – no matter what team I’ve been on and who’s been on that team, even playing with Kobe (Bryant) and those guys (on the Lakers) – of having my voice being respected. I’ve never been a star player, so to speak, but I’ve been one of the leaders, one of the voices of reason, and I have, I think, an uncanny ability to be able to get through to everybody, and not so much by talking. I lead by example, so that when I do talk, people listen, and I’m respected.”
Barnes views his teammates as family. When he was growing up in Sacramento, he was expected to keep an eye out for his younger brother and sister. On the court, that has meant playing the role of protector and enforcer in his past lives with the Lakers, Clippers, Grizzlies, Sixers, Warriors, Knicks, Magic and Kings, kind of like a hockey goon.
“I just wish we get to sit in the penalty box and not get fined $25,000, $50,000,” said Barnes, who has had his share of those financial setbacks for on-court fracases. “But I guess it’s a different sport.”
Coming home to Sacramento, Barnes will step into a locker room where the personalities last year did not always congeal.
He pays no mind to stories about interactions from the past. But he does think he’ll be able to get through to the All-Star big man and Olympic gold medalist, DeMarcus Cousins, whose dour demeanor and clashes with referees and coaches in recent years have made the Kings something of a bummer to be around.
“He’s probably the most talented center in the game,” Barnes said of Cousins. “I think we’re similar in some ways, because when I was younger, I was hotheaded, so to speak, and focused on the wrong thing, and I think that would obviously take away from my game but then take away from my team because you’re getting technical fouls and committing dumb fouls that are vital to the team, especially for someone like him, because he’s such an important part of the team. But I think his growth has shown over the years, and I really think that him playing in the Olympics this summer has helped.”
Barnes said Cousins has “been trying to get me over here for three or four years.” The two of them have talked and texted regularly “when he’s going through stuff,” Barnes said.
“Even when we weren’t teammates, he would listen to what I have to say, so I think the fact that we are teammates is only going to help that,” Barnes said. “I know he respects me as a man and as a player, and for someone like him, that’s what he needs – he needs an older, veteran player that he respects, someone he’ll listen to.”
Maybe you saw the Robert Redford movie “The Horse Whisperer” or are familiar with trainers who take a naturalistic approach toward soothing angry equines.
Barnes identifies with the concept.
“I’m the ‘Cousins whisperer,’ ” he said. “He’s a great guy and continues to grow on and off the court, and it’s going to be an honor just to get a chance to play with him.”
If Barnes can foster a winning team dynamic, a challenge for the Kings that goes right through Cousins, it won’t matter if he scores a point all season.
He’ll be the team MVP.
Key dates for Kings
- Monday: Training camp opens
- Tuesday: First practice
- Oct. 4: First preseason game, vs. L.A. Lakers, Anaheim, 7 p.m.
- Oct. 10: First home preseason game, vs. Maccabi Haifa, 7:30 p.m.
- Oct. 26: First regular-season game, at Phoenix, 7:30 p.m.
- Oct. 27: First home regular-season game, vs. San Antonio, 7:30 p.m.