The Return of Matt Barnes

There has been a multitude of issues with the Sacramento Kings over the past ten years that have added to the futility of the franchise.

Aside from the obvious lack of stability with the head coaching position, one of the most telling concerns has been the absence of solid veteran players. When a team is rebuilding, it is common for them to be younger and less experienced than others. The Kings have been in a rebuild stage for ten plus seasons, and have seen plenty of veterans come and go who lacked the drive, motivation and effort needed to keep a young team afloat and competitive. Some names? John Salmons, Carl Landry, Marcus Thornton, John Salmons (again), Aaron Brooks, Travis Outlaw, and Rajon Rondo.

Some were solid scorers, others were okay role players. Not a single one of them improved the team. “But Rajon Rondo led the league in assists!” Yes, if you only look at box scores. 

While the search for quality players never ends, the Kings may have found their long awaited veteran presence.

On July 9th, the Kings signed 36-year old guard/forward Matt Barnes.

NBA fans are familiar with Matt Barnes. He may have even played for your favorite franchise, and has been on nine different teams in his thirteen-year career, tied for second-most among active players. You may know him from his altercation with Derek Fisher last season, when he drove 95 miles to “beat the s—t” out of the now-former Knicks head coach for having a relationship with Barnes’ ex-wife. He may also look familiar from the “Kobe Doesn’t Flinch” video from 2010.

Barnes should be especially familiar to the people of Sacramento. He played 43 games for the Kings in ’04-’05 before being shipped off to Philadelphia in the Chris Webber trade. He’s also a local product.

Matt Barnes was a student at Del Campo High School in Fair Oaks, California, about 15 miles from downtown Sacramento. He was a letterman in both football and basketball, and earned All-American and All-State honors in both sports. As a senior, he led the nation in touchdown receptions with 28, while averaging 30 points, 10 rebounds and 6 blocks on the hardwood. He was a local superstar.

Twelve seasons after the Kings traded him away, Barnes is once again donning white and purple as a part of the new regime in Sacramento. Through the first four games of the season, he was averaging 10.7 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 4 assists while playing through a rib injury suffered in one of the early games. His veteran experience helped fuel the early season success for Sacramento. Not only was he making wise decisions during game play, but he was also the vocal leader on the court. Coach Dave Joerger leaned on Barnes heavily during crunch time of the games against the Spurs and Timberwolves, and Barnes acted as a coach on the floor. He was the one speaking in team huddles, clapping and encouraging his young teammates to make the right play with him. With a minute left in the Timberwolves game, Barnes made the defensive play of the game when he swatted Karl Anthony-Towns' jumper with 1:30 left to help propel the Kings to the win. He was seen after the play bending down and clutching his injured ribs, grimacing as he ran back to the offensive side of the ball. It is that grit, toughness, and desire that Barnes brings that Sacramento has been dearly lacking in the past.

Over the course of the of the last two contests, Barnes has played poorly and the Kings have now lost three games in a row. He went 0-7 in 23 minutes against the Heat on Tuesday night in his first start of the year, replacing Kosta Koufos in the lineup. Two nights later in Orlando, Barnes entered the game in the first quarter, played nine minutes, and didn’t see any further action. There was no apparent injury that he suffered, and he went 1-2 with two points and three rebounds in his very limited time. Could he be fatigued already? He is averaging five minutes less per game than he did last season when he averaged 29 minutes per. The Kings are on an early season five-game road trip, and maybe his rib injury finally caught up with him? His playing time situation will be an interesting one to monitor, as he has been a coach and fan favorite thus far.

It is still very early in the season, and there are 76 games still left to be played. Things will change with the Kings rotation once Darren Collison returns to the lineup early next week, giving Ty Lawson a breather and allowing Garrett Temple to play an off guard instead of playing point for the second unit. It will be a bit of weight off of the back of Matt Barnes as well, as Collison is a veteran in the backcourt and happens to be the Kings third best player.

Sacramento wraps up their road trip with a back-to-back in Milwaukee and Toronto over the weekend, after which they will play seven of their next eight games at home in Golden 1 Center.


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