Laker report cards: Matt Barnes
A buzzing sound bounced around the walls of Matt Barnes' house in Palos Verdes, and the noise came from all sources.
First, the plasma television screen that showcased an NBA playoff game. Second, Barnes' barber and friend, Demorea "Truck" Evans, used a hairclipper to buzz his hair into a mohawk, a ritual Barnes followed for every playoff season in honor of his late mother, Ann. And third, the compression machine sitting by Barnes' right knee.
Barnes had grown accustomed to that sound ever since suffering a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee in the Lakers' 101-97 victory Jan. 7 against New Orleans. Even when he returned from rehab nearly two months later, Barnes wore the device three to four times a day for 30 minutes each, reducing the pain, swelling, tissue damage and muscle spasms by instantly freezing water into ice. There was a sound Barnes would have rather heard instead, the initial buzz surrounding his highly efficient play through timely cutting, hustle plays and endless energy. But the moment Barnes became injured and started wearing that compression machine following his injury, he no longer proved to be the same player.
"Once I started returning, I never was really comfortable," Barnes said following a season where he averaged 6.7 points per game on 47% shooting. "I never got back in the rotation so to speak. So I’m still beating myself up about that. As we speak, it was hard to swallow to know that I had a chance but I was hurt."
That's why it's hard to truly evaluate Barnes' worth to the team. The Lakers will literally determine that soon as he's weighing whether he will exercise his player option. But from a performance standpoint, it's more appropriate to give two grades for before and after his injury. His grade before his surgery warranted an A- because he fit in seamlessly off the bench despite still learning the triangle by finding ways to compensate for the learning curve. While learning the triangle, he relied on his basketball instincts and made sure he was cutting properly into open spaces and converting on hustle plays. He had been very deferential to the veterans both with public comments and on-court actions. Even though he had eaten into Ron Artest's minutes, the two have set up a mutual system where one will raise his hand when he feels he's tired and needs a break. It was everything the Lakers had envisioned he brought ever since his infamous contentious play last season with Kobe Bryant when he played for the Orlando Magic.
Once the injury happened, Barnes no longer proved to be the same player, as indicated by his 3.6 points per game average on 39.5% shooting in 13.1 minutes. His play warranted a C- because he appeared extremely tentative, which prompted him to develop bad habits, such as shooting too many three-pointers, replacing physical defense with silly fouls and cutting corners on off-ball movement. Barnes surely should have found ways to compensate for those shortcomings, but he acknowledged the unfamiliarity dealing with his first major injury.
"To have that one chance to finally be a Laker and contend for a title and then to tear my knee up," Barnes said, "it kills me inside."
Photo: Lakers forward Matt Barnes reacts after falling to the court and injuring his right knee against New Orleans in early January. Credit: Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press