The Golden State Warriors announced the signing of forward Matt Barnes on Thursday, and the two sides were lucky that the timing worked out. Barnes wanted to sign with the Warriors last summer, per Marcus Thompson of the San Jose Mercury News, but decided to join his hometown Sacramento Kings for more money. The Kings released him after trading DeMarcus Cousins and committing to a rebuild, which allowed Barnes to pick his next destination. When Kevin Durant injured his knee Tuesday, Golden State acted quickly. It had planned to bring in guard Jose Calderon for the rest of the season, but Barnes clearly addressed a need.
On Instagram, Barnes called it the happiest day of his life next to the birth of his children. This deal means he can return to the place where he had the best time of his career, and he can compete for a championship.
Normally, a contender signing a journeyman a week before his 37th birthday would not be much of a story. Barnes, however, can help the Warriors even if he isn’t part of their rotation in the playoffs. He fits with them because they need to find ways to get through the next month without Durant.
Barnes, a physical, defense-first role player, is obviously not going to do a Durant impression. If anything, he’ll be doing a Harrison Barnes impression. Golden State will have him play both forward spots, and his work as a power forward will be most important. He can shoot and slash when opportunities present themselves, but his job will mostly be about defending big wings and 4s and allowing the Warriors to continue to use variations of the Death Lineup.
He is not a perfect player for this role because opposing defenses will dare him to shoot, but he’s the best they could have hoped for on the buyout market. Barnes will probably make a respectable amount of his wide-open looks, and his presence means that coach Steve Kerr won’t have to lean too much on unproven young players. Durant’s value to this particular team was not based on his incredible ability to score, but rather his ability to affect the game in just about every way. Barnes won’t protect the rim or rebound like Durant, but he’ll compete on the inside and annoy opponents as much as he can.
If Golden State had not signed Barnes, it would likely have given more minutes to James Michael McAdoo or Kevon Looney on the second unit. This could have been a positive for their development, but it would have come with risk. The Warriors coaching staff can trust Barnes to be in the right place at the right time, and his versatility gives them more options. They don’t have to mess around with playing Andre Iguodala or Shaun Livingston at the 4, and they don’t have to go with traditional lineups more than they want to. In the modern NBA, you can never have enough 6-foot-7 guys with length who play hard on defense.