Deja vu is a funny thing. Sometimes it hits you when you least expect it. Sometimes you fear it’s return.
All last summer, even with Kevin Durant’s arrival, I couldn’t get a sinking feeling out of my stomach. For whatever else happened in those fateful nights in June, one floppy mistake stuck in my mind: Warriors coach Steve Kerr’s weird obsession with the dude with bouncing hair, his insistence on playing him in that crucial stretch in the third quarter of Game 7, felt to me like it cost us the title. True, former center Festus Ezeli’s minutes were far more damaging, ultimately. But those moments of obsession were where the momentum shifted.
And here Kerr was, with his favorite toy back in his hands. Like a child with the nuclear codes, there’s no telling what might happen. He may never press that button, but do you really have to take that risk?
A twist of fate
In the end, Warriors general manager Bob Myers took the decision out of Kerr’s hands. And whilst Briante Weber was a fun young player, the team decided they needed a vet for the playoff run.
Enter Jose Calderon.
A turnstile defensively even at his prime, could his shooting and playmaking still be valuable? I’ll admit I was skeptical. Extremely skeptical. (Fortunately for us, Cleveland has kindly taken on that contract.)
But then everything changed.
Marcin Gortat tossed down Zaza Pachulia in Washington and — even before he was dubbed maimer of worlds by Gregg Popovic — his giant, troll-like head crashed into Durant’s knee.
Everyone held their breath for 24 hours. And we knew Zaza-induced pain long before the Spurs did.
Enter an old friend
Myers knew that whatever happened with Durant, he needed to give Kerr something he could actually use rather than some sort of retro novelty toy. And there he was. Fresh off a buyout from Sac-town, our very own Matt Barnes. The original Barnes. The smart, dollar-for-dollar choice in the ‘who’s the better Barnes’ interminable comments arguments. The We Believe nostalgia. The good kind of deja vu.
And it wasn’t just us getting the nostalgia bug. Stephen Jackson couldn’t contain his excitement.
As for Matt Barnes, himself, well safe to say it extremely emotional return. The Warriors were the last team his mother saw him play for, and she said she wanted to be buried in a Warriors jersey.
“Baron (Davis) sent me a text,” Barnes told reporters. “Me and Jack talked at length. He said he teared up. This has always been a special place for us. This was the last place my Mom saw me play before she died of cancer in that 2008 season. So a lot of special memories and relationships I built here. It’s just great to be back.”
The San Francisco Chronicle did a piece on the passing of Barnes’ mother at the beginning of that season, which detailed the love and pride she had watching her son come into his own as an NBA player. Ms. Barnes was so affected by her son’s success with the magical “We Believe” team, she asked to be buried in a Golden State jersey just hours before Matt played in the final game she would ever see.
“She said she wanted to be buried in her jersey,” Barnes told the Chronicle two hours before tip-off of that game. “We got a jersey made for her, with her name on it. We’re not going to bury her in that, but we got a jersey made for her.”
Ann passed away less than four hours after that game ended, with her final request being that Matt leave her bedside before tip-off and rejoin his team after a five game sabbatical.
True, times have changed, and we’re now in some weird basketball bizarro world where the Warriors are the greatest team on earth and both the L.A. Lakers and Chicago Bulls are hot garbage, but to see that level of emotion to sign with this franchise was awesome.
I mean, this is the franchise that Chris Webber forced his way out of after one year, that Latrell Sprewell choked his way out of (coach-wise, not Starks 2-for-18-wise). Even Stephen Curry didn’t want to come here before he was drafted in 2009. And here’s a guy that sounds like he’s fighting back the tears to come put this jersey back on?
But it was not merely nostalgia — once on the court Barnes played his heart out.
He was a valuable bench piece the last 20 games of the season, playing the small ball four with his usual mix of defensive grit, frenetic energy, and weird herky jerky jumpshot.
Overall he put up 5.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.3 apg, along with around half a block and steal per game, shooting .422 from the floor and .346 from 3, while playing 20 minutes a night.
All while being 37 years old. I mean I just turned 37, and I’ve got a little spare tire developing, and glass ankles from too many sprains in my younger days trying to cook fools with the Hardaway killer crossover (which, as an aside, is a lot easier when playing against enthusiastic Brits who only just started switching over from rugby and don’t really understand the rules).
Was it all the toaster?
True, the Warriors’ late-season success may have been about the magical powers of the toaster that re-ignited and re-energized our We Believe man. But he definitely helped secure that first seed. And while his checkered history off the court had some people understandably worried about his fit and affect on chemistry, he kept his nose clean and appeared to have been a solid teammate. There was no drama this time round.
Then the playoffs rolled around, Durant returned and Barnes took a back seat. But there he was, willing his teammates on, providing spot minutes when needed, and generally bringing a sense of nostalgia and deja vu back to the franchise.
There aren’t many moments in the team’s modern past that the fanbase remembers with warmth and pride, but Matt Barnes provided that link. It seemed fitting that with the franchise honoring the team 10 years on, there was a representative of We Believe on the roster as the juggernaught that is the 2017 Warriors stormed to the title.
So there it is. Matt Barnes 2017. Fittingly for a man of his fire and energy he burned bright, and then just like that he’s gone. But not forgotten. We still believe in magic.
How would you grade Matt Barnes’ 2016-17 NBA season?
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