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Scott Howard-Cooper

Matt Barnes may have some apologies to make after joining his former nemeses the Lakers this offseason.
Fernando Medina/NBAE/Getty Images

For Barnes, if you can't beat 'em, join em

Posted Jul 26 2010 10:37PM

The destination for Matt Barnes is settled, the contract is worked out, the latest and strangest of his many free-agent summers is resolved, and we are down to one last pressing question:

Who's bringing the diapers?

More specifically, who's bringing the soiled diapers that are to be stuffed into Lamar Odom's mouth? And is Barnes doing said stuffing himself? Or is someone else, maybe someone still in a Magic uniform, now responsible for ensuring Odom takes a big silencing bite of kiddie litter?

Matt Barnes, Laker antagonist, has become a Laker. This might be strange for any other team, but in Los Angeles, unusual doesn't even begin to kick in until E! has shown up to do a remote. So, yeah, the newest free-agent signing. What of it?

All Barnes did was motion like he was going to snap an in-bound pass into Kobe Bryant's face a couple inches away, before holding on to the ball (Bryant didn't flinch) and later verbally jostle with the Lakers. Odom likened Barnes to wrestler Ric Flair after the game, called him an "action figure" and said Barnes needed tights. Bryant played along, chuckling and noting the big difference between being bumped by Supermatt and, say, Kenyon Martin, intimating Barnes isn't big enough or strong enough to do any real damage.

That was how it started on March 7, a 96-94 Magic win. Barnes had already come to believe he butted heads with Bryant more than any player in the league, and he wasn't going to stop then, not in the first game in Orlando since the Lakers clinched the championship on that very court the previous June, and not with Barnes trying to set himself up as a difference maker for a possible rematch in the 2010 Finals. None of it was that unusual, really -- the usual game action of someone trying to unnerve Bryant with physical play, plus a little extra theatrics after. But it continued beyond the arena.

Following a later Lakers game that didn't involve the Magic, Odom said, "That [expletive] that Matt Barnes pulled, that ain't never going to happen again."

Barnes fired back on Twitter:

"Morning yall up early w/ the babies watchn Dora. Seems Lamar can't keep my name out his mouth maby I need 2 put my sons [expletive] diaper n it"

And then the guy signs with the Lakers. Rich.

"I'm sure it'll come up during the season, one time or another," Barnes said after joining his fourth team in as many years.

Just maybe.

"I haven't even actually talked to Lamar," he said. "I know once we talk, we'll be cool, though."

They will be. The greeting will undoubtedly be hugs and laughter and comments about what happens in the heat of the moment, blah, blah, blah. Everyone understands trash talking as opposed to genuine dislike, and this does not feel anything close to genuine dislike.

There will be a warm welcome because the Lakers may come to rely on Barnes a lot, with the possibility that a back injury could sideline Luke Walton all 2010-11, and because the most-important Laker wanted him. It was Bryant, long a target of Barnes' aggressive play, who personally lobbied Barnes to sign in Los Angeles and play a short drive from his college life at UCLA. That said something to Barnes.

It says something about Bryant, too. He loved the idea of signing Artest last summer, months after the two had physical battles, even confrontations, as playoff opponents. He had memorable showdowns with Raja Bell, then pushed Bell to join the Lakers as a free agent this offseason, before Bell instead took an offer from the Jazz. And then Bryant worked Barnes hard, trying to convince him how it would be a better decision for the journeyman forward to take less money in L.A. compared to the deal on the table from the recovering Cavaliers.

"It's always been a dream of mine to play for the Lakers," Barnes said. "Going to school in L.A. and having a great time out there, it was almost a no-brainer. It was a hard choice between Miami, L.A. and Cleveland, but I chose L.A.

"I was talking to Kobe a lot leading up to it. I think he was pretty instrumental in me signing there. We talked consistently. Me and him have had some heated battles. It's really just two great competitors. There's not a better competitor in the league I'd rather play with. He wants people that are going to compete and will go into a war with him. He knows I'll definitely do that. He knows Ron is going to do that. He knows a lot of other guys on the team will do that. To be the best player in the league, you can recruit guys like that."

While worrying later about who's bringing the diapers.

"No, no, no," Barnes said, smiling. "None of that. That was when we were on other teams. We're a family now."

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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