Matt Barnes still cherishes role with 2007 Golden State team
He still lives in the Bay Area during the off-season, and fans often ask Barnes about the Warriors' first-round upset against the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks. He stays in touch with former teammates Baron Davis, Stephen Jackson and Monta Ellis. And on Saturday, Barnes will host an exhibition game at the San Jose State Events Center where the current Warriors team will match up with the dubbed "We Believe" 2007 squad, with portions of the proceeds going to Athletes vs. Cancer, Barnes' foundation that provides local cancer screening units.
For Barnes, playing with the 2007 team stirs memories of a special time.
"Until I win a championship with the Lakers, that year is still the best time of my career," Barnes said of the Warriors' 2006-07 season in a phone interview. "That was more than just the best time, but my first real opportunity to show the league I can really play."
Before, Barnes said he "seriously contemplated" quitting basketball. Four years into his NBA career, stints with the Clippers, Sacramento Kings, New York Knicks and the Philadelphia 76ers produced nothing more than temporary stomping grounds before his next gig.
Sixers Coach Maurice Cheeks continuously belittled Barnes, who said he then considered an NFL career. The former letterman wide receiver at Del Campo High School said he received seven or eight invitations to try out for NFL teams. Barnes reconsidered, though, after talking with former Warriors Coach Don Nelson.
"He said, 'I can't promise anything, but I like what I've seen so far. If you continue to do this, I can find you some time,' " Barnes said about Nelson. "That was all the motivation I needed to hear that from a head coach, especially with his credentials and track record."
Barnes posted career highs during the regular season in points (9.8), rebounds (4.6) and assists (2.1). He made a second-leading 106 three-pointers after making only 10 threes during his three previous seasons. And he played a large part in the Warriors' first-round upset of top-seeded Dallas, including defending Dirk Nowitzki and posting 16 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists in the deciding sixth game.
"I never played on a team," Barnes said, "with the camaraderie and the chemistry and love we had for everyone."
The Warriors rallied behind Barnes proclamation he'd shave his head into a mohawk should they make the playoffs. Golden State went on a 16-5 run to end the season. Barnes' teammates and Nelson also supported him the next season when his mom, Ann, died Nov. 27, 2007, from Stage 4 lung cancer. Many of them, Barnes said, visited him in Sacramento where he spent time with his mom during his free time. The team also excused him from certain activities so Barnes could maximize the time with Ann during her treatment.
That's why Barnes didn't hesitate when a fan suggested via Twitter to organize an exhibition game featuring the current Warriors team (Ellis, Stephen Curry, David Lee, Dorrell Wright, Lou Amundson, Charlie Bell, Jeremy Bell, Jeremy Lin and Anthony Morrow) and former Warrior players (Jason Richardson, Ike Diogu, Al Harrington, Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and C.J. Watson).
Still, Barnes has mixed feelings about his former team. His former Warriors teammates wax nostalgic about their 2007 playoff run when they're together, but Barnes said conversation quickly shifts over lamenting how everything was short-lived. The Warriors traded Richardson to the Charlotte Bobcats for rookie Brandan Wright the next season. During the 2008 off-season, Davis opted out of his contract and signed with the Clippers. And Barnes went to the Phoenix Suns as a free agent.
"It's very frustrating," Barnes said. "Golden State's track record was having great players, but never really holding onto them and letting them develop. That's one thing people ask us and we always wonder, 'Why did they not give that team a chance?' "
Barnes believes the current Warriors appear at a similar crossroads. They acquired new ownership (Joe Lacob and Peter Guber), a new head coach (Mark Jackson) and a new consultant (former Lakers General Manager Jerry West) to oversee a talented backcourt in Ellis and Curry. Even though he's since far removed from that organization with later stops to Phoenix, Orlando and now the Lakers, Barnes forever cherishes his Golden State stint.
"I'm glad I stuck with basketball," Barnes said. "The Warriors came to my life and I'm here today because of it."
-- Mark Medina
Photo credit: Ben Margot / Associated Press