After news got out that the Golden State Warriors were going to sign Matt Barnes, the Golden State of Mind staff had some extended discussions internally about our feelings about him as a player as well as his off-court struggles.
The organization itself had been silent about the off-court issues until Sunday when Ethan Sherwood Strauss reported a quote from Steve Kerr for ESPN.
"We're aware of Matt's legal situation, and we'll see how that plays out. We're comfortable with the process, and I'm comfortable with Matt," Kerr told ESPN. "I had him during my tenure in Phoenix, and he was a great teammate, and I enjoy being around him, so I'm more confident that everything will be fine. But the legal stuff has to handle itself."
However, as our internal dialogue continued, it became apparent that our opinions represented the full spectrum of opinions about Barnes from nostalgic excitement to disappointment. As some of us began to wonder whether we should express something about the more concerning aspects of the signing, I thought it might be interesting to bring the internal discussion that we were having to the site community in the form of a roundtable.
Hopefully, we can take this to begin a civil conversation about matters basketball and beyond the court.
1. Matt Barnes, Andrew Bogut, and Jose Calderon were all considered to be options to fill the roster spot vacated by Briante Weber, obviously representing very different types of needs. Taking the current state of the team into account (e.g. KD's injury, interest in resting veterans down the stretch, etc.), do you think Barnes was the best choice basketball-wise given their options?
Apricot: From a strict win-basketball-this-year perspective, this was the right move. I’m still mourning the loss of Bri-fense though.
Sami: In my opinion, it doesn’t really matter how good an athlete is or how well they fit the needs of the team if they do the kinds of things Barnes has been accused of doing. That said, I really don’t see the reason for the hype, nostalgia aside. And nostalgia is lost for me because of the things he’s done since he left.
Derek: As an ad lib decision in the immediate hours after the Durant injury, it’s pretty solid. Jose Calderon is the more skilled player, but the Warriors are really just trying to stay in holding pattern until Durant returns. Barnes should take somewhat of a load off Iguodala for a few weeks and do it at replacement level.
Duby Dub Dubs: It’s a sensible move, but not an exciting one. I always hate these questions because it presumes that we know all available options. I mean, over Calderon? Sure. But only because that sets the bar so low. That said, he does fill a lot of the roles Harrison would have, had he stayed. This was something we discussed on GSOM as a potential contingency plan if we lost HB and Bogut, so I think the move makes more sense than Bogut or Calderon.
Bram: I am unfortunately still caught up in the whirlwind of my nostalgia. From a basketball perspective, it was the correct move. With Durant down, the Warriors desperately needed someone to guard the opposing team’s best forward. McCaw isn’t quite ready to take all those reps. From a fan perspective, it was also the right move. I’ll never forget “We Believe,” no matter what dumb crap Barnes has done in the ensuing years. And yes, I feel icky about myself for feeling this way.
Mike: Barnes was absolutely the right choice. We needed depth at the wings especially with Kevin Durant's injury and within the Warriors budget he was definitely the best player available. Much like Bram said I am also caught up in the nostalgia of it all. I always appreciated the way Barnes played. Curiously enough I’ve never seen a teammate talk negatively about him. He seems like the kind of guy players love to have on their team and opponents hate, he always did have a “ride or die” type mentality.
Tamryn: The team acted swiftly after KD’s injury to get another player on the floor who can produce. So, from that standpoint, the addition of Matt Barnes was a prudent stop-gap measure by the organization to keep the team in strong standing heading into the playoffs. Much like Duby, I find the move to be sensible and necessary, but not particularly exciting … unless Barnes’ tendency toward hot-headedness is taken into account. As it is, Draymond Green has so many technical fouls that he will likely be forced to sit games in the playoffs. (It doesn’t help that officials referee him more harshly than other players – like, LBJ, for example: world traveler and rim acrobat). So, now, we add Barnes to this mix – a player who is no stranger to flagrant fouls and ejections. Body slamming a guy is kind of hard to defend as clean play, so we must ask: Is this the kind of “toughness” the Warriors need? And will a player prone to actual dirty play be more trouble than he’s worth?
The one potential bright side is that with Barnes on the floor, Draymond Green will now look like a choir boy in comparison. Maybe the T’s will go to Barnes instead of Green now, allowing the team to keep the more valuable player on the floor.
2. Unfortunately, Barnes has gotten a lot of attention since his last stint with the Warriors for his actions off the court (e.g. domestic violence, assault and threatening Derek Fisher...seriously). How does that off-court controversy affect how you feel about the signing?
Apricot: I don’t particularly like Matt Barnes, though there’s We Believe nostalgia. But I also don’t have a pure principled stand about following the W’s either. I mean, I didn’t like Andrew Bogut either back when he was a Dub, but I still followed the team. I don’t know where the line is. So bringing in the fired SF police chief was beyond the line for me. Bringing in a convicted spouse beater is beyond the line. Maybe a confirmed un-convicted spouse beater is possibly beyond? Someone who is sexist? Not beyond. Barnes’s case is blurrier to me, what with the recanting by the spouse. (Note: true abuse allegations are often recanted.) I don’t really know what to make of it.
Sami: The viewpoint that you have to separate on the court from off the court is a fairly callous outlook. 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been/will be affected by domestic violence. That’s a fairly large amount of the population who probably doesn’t want to watch a player that has domestic violence allegations in their past and is currently facing assault charges from this season. Sports lose all escapism/distraction value for those people when their favorite team employs someone like that. It might be easier to look the other way on this issue if it’s never affected you. But it has very likely affected someone you know, someone you care about. You may just not know about it because it’s not polite dinner conversation.
Quite frankly, I’m a little upset with the organization. For a team that touts their character as being light years ahead, who supports their coaches and players speaking out on social issues, they sure were minimal in their response about these allegations. I’m told that Bob Myers declined to comment and Kerr’s response was almost a non-answer. By ignoring the past allegations and minimizing the current charges, they are further proving that violence against women doesn’t seem to matter to the public. Especially when the one committing it is a popular public figure or has the means to make the issue go away.
Derek: It’s always a tough pill to swallow when an athlete/organization fails to live up to your adoration as a fan. Matt Barnes was a feel-good story on hard-nosed toughness until that translated into real-world actions. We may never know the absolute truth on the matter, but even if the gavel swings favorably in Barnes’ direction in court, I can’t help but feel an uncomfortable twinge when I read about what Barnes has been accused of doing.
Duby Dub Dubs: I unabashedly like to root for the people, not just the on-court portion of our players. To that end, this signing sucks for me. Much like Bogut, I have sort of swept his off court antics under my perception so that I can keep my warm fuzzy memories of them on the team. Barnes has some pretty bad baggage coming back with him this time, and it does sort of hurt my ability to root for him. Still, remember that We Believe dunk? If it wasn’t for Baron Davis posterizing Kirilenko, I feel like that one would have been the preeminent dunk of We Believe. I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for Barnes, even though he probably doesn’t deserve it any more. I couldn’t find the dunk I was thinking of, but this interview where Barnes talks about his history, may help our readers have a bit of empathy for what this guy has gone through.
Bram: We want sports to provide a reprieve from life, but these guys are -- often times, unfortunately -- just as human and flawed as the rest of us, if not more so. Barnes has been beloved by every organization he’s ever represented. When he signed, my dad (who, I’m sure has no inkling of the pending case, allegations, etc) sent me a text saying “Just heard an interview with Mattie Barnes on KNBR. He’s totally stoked! WE BELIEVE indeed!” We shared that moment, the “We Believe” moment, together. And we will forever cherish that moment.
Sports bring people together. Sports provide a template for how to forget about all the other crap, like people dying, people upending the constitution, and people being asshats to one another. But sports, of course, are populated by people who live, breath, and error. Barnes is a complicated guy. I think if he was a complete “lost cause,” the organization wouldn’t have signed him. However, there’s no way to forgive what he is accused of doing. So, ugh. Here we are.
Mike: I’ve always been able to separate who a player is on the court from who they are off the court. Maybe it’s naive of me but I’ve always felt it’s important to do this. I don’t like the off-court incidents but honestly we rarely hear the full stories; last I heard we still didn’t know what initiated the assault and without having all the facts I’m not going to judge. Draymond Green also had assault charges brought against him in the offseason and it didn’t change my view on him as a player at all. Andre Iguodala’s ex-wife once claimed that Iguodala didn’t want their daughter playing basketball in case it turned her into a lesbian. Most of these things are either proven wrong or simply forgotten about over time. I don’t like players because of their political views, religion or behaviour off the court. I like them because of the way they play; everything else is a bonus and draws the line between “oh, he’s a good player” and “he’s one of my favourite players of all time”. Maybe that’s “wrong” of me, I’m not sure, but it’s the way I’ve always felt.
Tamryn: As a pacifist, I typically believe violence is never the answer. As we’ve seen in many present-day scenarios, one act of violence escalates to another and another until the combatants forget what started the fight in the first place. So, if everyone keeps hands to themselves (yes, this means women, too), these kinds of situations would not arise. But I also believe in the rule of law – that everyone is innocent until proven guilty, and that everyone has a right to a fair legal process. If found guilty of pending legal charges, the team should cut him. But until that time, I don’t think it’s fair or safe to assume guilt and apply punishment. It is assumed guilt that results in the police killings of so many African Americans each year – citizens killed without benefit of arrest, let alone trial. Assumed guilt – even if based on credible accusation – is more problematic than the signing.
Am I happy the team signed a guy with a history of violence and present legal woes? Of course not. But I did consider that Barnes’ presence on the team could help him to become a more stand-up guy. Sure, this may be wishful thinking. But the Warriors’ organization values character, and what better way to demonstrate strong character than to take in a wayward soul? Having a strong character doesn’t mean banishing everyone who has done something wrong in their lives and preventing them from earning a living. This societal view is why recidivism rates are so high. People get out of prison, they can’t get a job because they have been ostracized for past crimes, they return to crime because they are desperate for money, and they land back in prison. To me, it shows stronger character to give a chance to someone who has made mistakes or fought inner demons than to turn one’s back.
Kerr is a wise man and it is hard for me to believe ideas such as these did not cross his mind when signing Barnes. Yep, basketball is a business. But surely Kerr considered the situation beyond Barnes helping the team. In the bigger scheme of things, perhaps the team is helping Barnes … which, therefore, helps everyone in his orbit – including the Warriors.
Nate: There have been a lot of good points made among us about social responsibility, forgiveness, and just enjoying sports so I don’t want to add too much. Butmy immediate reaction to the signing was that Barnes strikes me as a potential distraction. Of course, the fact that teammates (and Kerr) have nothing but good to say about him and teams continue to sign him suggest that my knee-jerk reaction was purely speculative. So beyond that, I think my biggest concern is the fact that we live in a society in which abuse of women is so often either condoned, dismissed, or ignored that it simply becomes ingrained as a common sense part of our existence.
Regardless of whether we care that the Warriors take a stand on these issues, the fact is that they’ve openly prided themselves on being a high character organization and have spoken quite openly about the need to respect the humanity of others in response to the current political climate. The fact that I also actually value that about them — rather than separating politics from sports, I do find pouring time into sports more worthwhile if I respect what the players stand for/represent — made this move surprising. And I do think that it’s equally important that men actively stand against violence against women instead of relegating it to being a “women’s issue” — if men are the perpetrators, it’s actually a male problem.
But as others have noted, I simply don’t know Matt Barnes (aside from negative, yet humorous, impressions I got from a college friend who played against him in high school). I can both dislike the move and acknowledge — or hope -- that the Warriors know something I don’t. Or, as Tamryn said quite wisely, hope that if these reports do represent the man that something about this franchise will help him grow as a person, as we all wish to do.
3. Given the on-court value & off-court issues with Barnes, how would you grade this signing overall?
Sami: I think it was a tone-deaf signing and handled poorly. I don’t care if he goes on to win Finals MVP, I will still dislike it. Talent and popularity are not more important than integrity.
Derek: In terms of Matt Barnes the player: C. He fills a temporary position of need and should perform around replacement level. In terms of Matt Barnes the human: D or F, depending on how the court of law reviews the validity of the claims against him. He isn’t the type of character Bob Myers, Steve Kerr, or Joe Lacob can blandly praise as an angelic Stephen type. Yeah, that bar is ridiculously high, but it’s where Myers set it over the years by emphasizing the importance of high-character guys.
Duby Dub Dubs: Solid B. We pulled a replacement-level wing player out of nowhere right when we needed him. It’s not an exciting move on court (or off of it, honestly), but it does what we needed it to do. Cover the wing position so we don’t wear down Iguodala and Livingston. I think the Warriors compromised their stated organizational principles, but then again, I’ve never really bought the whole “we only want players who are “high character guys”” as anything more than nice lip-service so it’s not like this has disillusioned me on what the Warriors organization stands for or anything.
Bram: I grade this signing: “Ugh, but still, I am happy because it swells my heart with memory of a complicated, beautiful past that I don’t have the energy or wherewithal to unpack properly, even as I actively root for athletes who battle demons beyond their own comprehension, and as we all actively hurtle towards certain doom and irrelevance.” I lost my step mother shortly after “We Believe.” Matt’s story about his mother -- how signing with the Warriors meant so much to him because that was the last team she saw him play for -- REALLY struck a nerve. Who the hell am I to judge another man’s life? He is a genuine person, and people are, by nature, broken. That’s the best I’ve got.
Mike: It’s a solid C+ I’m not sure we could have done any better but at the same time it’s not going to be a difference maker in the long run I don’t think. Bonus points for nostalgia as well I guess.
Tamryn: C-, for all of the reasons stated above.