Lakers: L.A.’s Matt Barnes Era

Episode nine of “Legacy” revisits the moves L.A. made en route to its second attempted three-peat with Kobe Bryant.

Episode nine of Hulu’s must-watch Los Angeles Lakers Buss-era documentary series “Legacy: The True Story Of The L.A. Lakers,” released today, revisits the moves Los Angeles made en route to its second attempted three-peat with Kobe Bryant for the 2010-11 NBA season.

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We here at All Lakers like to refer to this season as the start of the “Matt Barnes Era” in L.A. Is it weird to nickname a little two-year run after what was essentially a team’s seventh man? Sure, but Barnes was a longtime winner throughout his career, thriving as an unselfish reserve on a series of playoff clubs who always played within himself to help his teams succeed.

The versatile, defensively-inclined 6’7″ swingman turned down a more lucrative offer from the Cleveland Cavaliers to ink a two-year, $3.6 million contract with his favorite team. Barnes, who’s actually a Northern Californian (he’s from Santa Clara), reveals in the documentary that he grew up a Lakers fan, which chronologically would make sense, as the 42-year-old would have grown up watching the Showtime Lakers rack up titles. He played for UCLA from 1998-2002, and thus got to witness the prime Shaqobe years firsthand, too.

Per Barnes, Kobe Bryant gave him a recruitment call during the summer of 2011. “And he’s like, ‘Have you ever thought about being a Laker?’ And I’m like, ‘F***ing, I’ve dreamt about being a Laker,'” Barnes says in fresh interview footage.

“And literally four or five days later, I was a Laker. As a team, they’re in search [of] a three-peat. Kobe wanted that sixth ring. He always told me, ‘I wanna sit at the same table as MJ,’ meaning he needed one more piece of hardware to be able to do that.” It’s funny that Michael Jordan has replaced Magic Johnson as “MJ” in basketball circles, but that’s what happens when you win six titles in eight seasons.

As a refresher: hot off the heels of a seven-game Finals victory over Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo, and the rest of the loathed Boston Celtics, the Lakers entered the 2010-11 season as heavy title co-favorites along with the newly-configured Miami Heat, a club that featured a certain current Lakers All-Star small forward. L.A. had appeared in three straight Finals at that point, winning in 2009 and 2010.

To shore up its depth, Los Angeles brought in Barnes, essentially as a supplemental Ron Artest, and blew most of its money on reserve point guard Steve Blake, who was signed to a four-year, $16 million deal via the team’s mid-level exception. L.A. also added back-up center Theo Ratliff and re-signed reserve shooting guard Shannon Brown. The team let backups Jordan Farmar and Josh Powell (plus noted suit-wearer Adam Morrison and D.J. Mbenga) walk.

Blake, who had been in a downward spiral since a stellar run with the Portland Trail Blazers fell off in the 2009-10 season, was terrible in L.A., averaging just 4.0 points a game on 35.9% shooting from the floor in 20 minutes a night. The fact that he couldn’t take steal more minutes from starter Derek Fisher, then 36 and well past his prime, is an indictment of Blake’s own abilities at that point.

The perennially underpaid and over-tattooed Barnes, however, was his typically Barnes-y self that year. The then-30-year-old wing provided stellar defense for L.A. across 19.2 minutes a night, serving as the primary backup for Kobe Bryant and Ron Artest. He averaged 6.7 points on 47% field goal shooting and 77.9% free-throw shooting, plus 4.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 0.7 steals.

Barnes’s first season in L.A. would prove to be the last dance for former MJ head coach Phil Jackson, who notes in the documentary that he discovered he had prostate cancer during the year and began to undergo treatments. Barnes acknowledges in “Legacy” that he was aware Jackson would probably be moving on after 2010-11, which indeed proved to be the case.

The club finished with a 57-25 record that season, good for the second seed in the Western Conference behind only the 61-21 San Antonio Spurs. Things fell apart in an infamously bad second-round showing against Dirk Nowitzki, Tyson Chandler, future Lakers assistant coach Jason Kidd, and the rest of the Dallas Mavericks, the eventual champs. L.A. got swept out of the playoffs, losing two of the four games by double digits. Its title defense died in a particularly messy 122-86 loss.

Barnes, now the co-host of the highly entertaining Showtime series All The Smoke, proves to be an excellent interview. He notes later in “Legacy” that he did not think highly of Phil Jackson’s replacement, current first-year Sacramento Kings head coach Mike Brown. “I think Mike was in over his head,” Barnes reflects as the documentary showcases footage of the aging, third-seeded Lakers falling to Kevin Durant, future Laker Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and the rest of the second-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2012 Western Conference Semifinals, 4-1, during Brown’s first (and last) full season as lead man in L.A.

In the 2012 offseason, with an aging L.A. roster clearly trending down, Barnes switched Staples Center sides, joining an ascendant Los Angeles Clippers during its second “Lob City” year. The 14-year vet’s title quest eventually ended when he joined an almost unbeatable 2016-17 Golden State Warriors club as a deep-bench reserve and locker room leader.

Episode 10 of “Legacy,” its finale, debuts one week from today.

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