The courtship began with a text message. Matt Barnes typed out a greeting, added his name and pressed send. Surprisingly, Kobe Bryant texted right back.
The flirting escalated from there.
Ultimately, Barnes signed a two-year deal Thursday with the Lakers, a lifelong dream of the former UCLA Bruin.
On Tuesday at the Lakers training complex, Barnes explained that his route to L.A. was largely because of Bryant, a player with whom he has a bumpy past.
"He told me one day that anyone crazy enough to mess with me is crazy enough to play with me," Barnes said.
Barnes, a forward who averaged 8.8 points and 25.9 minutes a game last season for the Orlando Magic, is on his eighth team in eight seasons. It appeared he would be heading to Toronto in a sign-and-trade deal, but that fell through.
Other teams appeared interested, but Barnes eventually signed for less money in order to pursue a championship with the Lakers, who at most can pay him $1.77 million next season. Barnes also has a player option for about $2 million in the 2011-12 season.
"I'm coming to a team that's won two straight titles, so I hope to be a small piece that helps them win No. 3," said Barnes, who will wear No. 9 and is expected to bolster the Lakers' perimeter defense.
The Lakers were in search of a physical defender after Raja Bell, another player who often "messed" with Bryant, signed with Utah. Barnes was a natural fit, as he and Bryant engaged in high-level trash-talking during Orlando's 96-94 win in March.
Bryant "just respects people that compete the hardest," Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak said. "He's not really in a popularity contest to make friends."
Kupchak said the move was a "conscious effort to get tougher," which jibes with the additions of gritty guard Steve Blake and shot-blocker Theo Ratliff.
Talk of the Lakers' additions brought up the issue of Miami, which brought back Dwyane Wade, and added LeBron James and Chris Bosh.
"Miami has a lot of firepower offensively, but we've got the same offensively, and we're tough on D as well," Barnes said. "I can't wait."
Even though Bryant expressed interest in Barnes, the Lakers didn't have the resources to sign him until last Wednesday, Kupchak said, crediting the Lakers' ownership.
"They sense the implications of being in a position to win three in a row," he said, adding that what Miami and other teams have done has kicked in their "competitive nature."
Speaking of that, Barnes said he's glad to be Bryant's teammate.
"After eight years of my career, I'm finally done guarding [Bryant] except in practice," Barnes said. "He's going to be on my side hitting those game winners instead of hitting them on me or seeing them hitting on my team."
Kupchak said he remains "optimistic" about re-signing Shannon Brown and that he expects a resolution in negotiations in the next seven to 10 days. . . . Kupchak had no updates on Bryant's injured right index finger or the arthroscopic surgery to Bryant's right knee, which was performed by a medical staff outside of the team.