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Steve Aschburner

Dwight Howard and Matt Barnes (right) form a formidable team in Orlando.
Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

Barnes making a mission of an NBA life on the move

Posted Jan 4 2010 11:28AM

Stan Van Gundy loves what Matt Barnes has brought to the Orlando Magic. Loves his energy. Loves his toughness. Loves his perpetual motion. And why not? If there's one thing the lean, 6-foot-7 forward knows about, it's moving.

But pardon Barnes if he doesn't put too much stock in Van Gundy's words, the likes of which he has heard and read oh so many times, in way too many places.

There was this sort of stuff early in his NBA career, seven years ago now: Newcomer Matt Barnes ... had 13 points and 10 rebounds to help the [L.A.] Clippers pull out a 106-102 victory over the Warriors. "I just got in a flow,'' said Barnes, who signed a 10-day contract last weekend. "Coach [Mike Dunleavy] left me in there for an extended period of time and I got in a rhythm.''

And this from his next stop, a professional homecoming that lasted a whole 146 days: Beginning his second year in the league, Sacramento native and Del Campo High graduate Matt Barnes made the team by proving his ability to fit into the Kings' system from day one.

Soon enough, though, he was headed East to rattle around there for a while, first in Philadelphia, then in New York: Will Barnes find a permanent home with the Knicks? "I hope so,'' coach Larry Brown said. "He knows how to play. He's much more athletic than I think most people realize, and he's a good, just really sound, solid kid. He tries to guard; he tries to play the right way.''

"Permanent'' in this case had Barnes back in Philadelphia six weeks later. And headed back West again a half season after that: Oakland, Calif. -- And to think the 76ers could have re-signed Matt Barnes for a song. Barnes, whom the Sixers let go after each of the last two seasons, showed his old team Tuesday night that it might have made a mistake. Barnes drained seven of eight attempts from three-point range and scored 25 points to lift the Golden State Warriors to a 116-97 victory over the Sixers at Oracle Arena.

Barnes' stay with Golden State was a relative eternity, lasting 149 games and 41 starts: "Matt will be a very good leader for our team," said coach Don Nelson on the day he named Barnes as one of the Warriors' captains for the 2007-08 season. "He is a guy who earned the respect of his teammates through hard work and dedication. Nothing was handed to this kid. He has overcome a lot of obstacles to be put in this position and that is the kind of player you want representing your team.''

Which is what the Phoenix Suns got when the Warriors let Barnes slip away several months later for a $1.2 million veteran's minimum contract: "He's the perfect player for us -- an athletic guy who runs the floor, finishes at the basket, and can shoot the outside shot,'' Suns general manager Steve Kerr said. "He's also a guy who has had big games in the playoffs for Golden State and likes the big stage.''

Except that the Suns' stage stayed small last spring. The team had stripped some gears in switching from Mike D'Antoni to Terry Porter to Alvin Gentry, missing the playoffs for only the third time in 21 seasons. So much for Barnes' career highs in points (10.2) and rebounds (5.5): "Some things were said and done, but then when it came down to it this summer, they showed absolutely no interest,'' Barnes said. "I'm a new guy, and we don't even make the playoffs. I can see from a business standpoint that I'm expendable.''

As you can see, Matt Barnes has performed well and gotten swell reviews wherever he has played. Then, just like U2, Bon Jovi or Kenny Chesney, he's on to another city, another arena, another crowd. It's a wonder no one has marketed a "Matt Barnes'' tour T-shirt yet.

If Marvin Barnes earned his nickname (Bad News) for what he delivered on the court and to his bosses, Matt Barnes could share it for what he's delivered in terms of roster moves and job security. The one-time rock of stability at UCLA -- he stayed put in Westwood for four years -- has had the type of skills and contracts that enable him to slide comfortably onto any roster and into almost any trade per the NBA's salary-matching rules. His deals have been short, easy to add, easy to cut and invariably land him back in the job market.

"For one reason or another, I just haven't stuck,'' Barnes said Friday night after scoring 17 points with 11 rebounds in the Magic's victory at Minnesota. "But whatever team I play on, I'm going to play as hard as I possibly can and be a good teammate.''

Twenty-four hours after he sparked Orlando's 106-94 victory in Minneapolis, Barnes had 23 points, hit 5-of-6 from the arc and played aggressively enough to foul out from the Magic's otherwise lethargic 101-93 loss at Chicago. Dwight Howard, Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis were a combined 8-of-31 for 24 points.

"He's the only guy on our team who runs. Everybody else jogs,'' Orlando coach Van Gundy said. "Then he stands out because he cuts. And he will try to rebound the ball all the time. So he does a lot of things that, really, our other perimeter players don't do. So he gives us a totally different look.''

Barnes has started three in a row in Mickael Pietrus' spot, and Orlando is 7-3 overall with Barnes in the starting lineup.

"I've worked myself into positions to have a job,'' he said. "I never take summers off. I never take it lightly -- it's a blessing to be in this league. Everyone's not a Lottery pick and gets to play with one franchise. That'd be nice. But one way or another, I'm going to make it. Whether that's a long-term deal or working my way through like I am now.''

Barnes has played for seven different franchises in seven NBA seasons. Factor in serious churning at the start -- he was drafted by Memphis as the 46th pick in 2002, traded to (and soon cut by) Cleveland that offseason, then signed and cut by Seattle in fall 2003 -- and he has been with 10 overall. That's getting into Jim Jackson-Tony Massenburg-Chucky Brown territory in the league's well-traveled No Green Bananas Club. Maybe "Movin' " Matt Barnes would be a better nickname, since "Suitcase'' doesn't offer much alliteration.

"There are those guys who bounce around,'' Van Gundy shrugged. "Everybody's got different skills. Once you get past the 'max' guys, everybody's just looking for guys who fit their team. I'm just glad he was available.''

He wasn't supposed to be. Barnes thought he had found more lasting homes in both Golden State and Phoenix -- he even bought a house in Arizona. Now he's optimistic again with a two-year contract worth a reported $3.2 million and the second year at his option for a change.

It helps that he and Howard share Aaron Goodwin as an agent. "I don't think he's going to have to pack his bags any time soon,'' Orlando's franchise guy said of Barnes. "I wanted him to come here -- I went and really talked to Otis about him playing for our team. I just liked his energy, his effort, he plays very tough. We had the same agent, but I watched him from afar and really liked how he played.''

From bouncing around to starting for the defending Eastern Conference champions, it seems almost like a big "n'yah, n'yah'' to the teams that let him go. "It should say something,'' Barnes said. "But I guess a lot of GMs and other teams don't see it that way. I'm out there playing to feed my family. Really. It's hard for me to believe that I'm not an 'average' player and I'm not making an 'average' salary [$5.58 million for 2009-10]. That's just the way it goes, and I'm going to fight my way till I get it. When you win, there's no telling what can happen.

"I take things personal, but I don't hold grudges. Never left a bad taste in anybody's mouth. It's a privilege to be in the league. It's all part of the game. You've got to just keep your head up and keep moving.''

Moving? Uh oh. There's that word again.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA for 25 years. You can e-mail him here.

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