Just as he stood up from icing his sprained right ankle, Lakers forward Matt Barnes faced another painful obstacle that would lead to another frustrating postseason.
Shortly before the Lakers' first-round series with the Denver Nuggets, Barnes said one of his 3-year-old sons jumped on his neck. That caused soreness that Barnes said still lingered following his exit interview Wednesday at the Lakers' practice facility in El Segundo.
"No excuses," Barnes said, "but I was a little beat up."
Barnes insists he didn't bring that up to justify his postseason play in which he averaged only 3.5 points on 27.1 % shooting, including a 16.1% mark from three-point range. Other reasons for such a performance drop-off include his lack of shooting rhythm, committing careless fouls and looking tentative in making the usual hustle plays he provided most of the regular season.
Even though Barnes said he "absolutely" wants to return to the Lakers, he's well aware he enters the off-season on shaky ground. Lakers forward Devin Ebanks, 22, will become a restricted free agent and serves as a better candidate than the 32-year-old Barnes for the Lakers' hopes in featuring youth on their roster. He's admitted at times that he remained frustrated with Mike Brown's fluctuating rotations. And Barnes played so poorly in the playoffs that Brown sat him in the Lakers' Game 5 loss Monday to Oklahoma City.
"I know probably better than anybody that this is a business," said Barnes, who's played for eight different teams in his nine-year career. "When you don't win here, changes are made. With that said, I would like to return. But I have to sit down with my family and my agent and see what the cards hold. I'm not really thinking about that right now. I'm just going to relax and hang out with my family."
This ending marked the second consecutive year in which Barnes' regular season play as a dependable energy player was followed by an ineffective postseason partly because of injuries.
His 6.7 points per game on 47% shooting and 4.3 rebounds in 19.2 minutes during the 2010-11 regular season came off hustle, intensity and effective cutting. After sitting for 26 games to rehab his surgically repaired right knee, Barnes only averaged 3.6 points per game on 37% shooting and 2.8 rebounds in 13.1 minutes in the postseason.
This season, Barnes experienced dips in playing time, ranging from the Lakers' third small forward, the team's starter and the first backup behind Metta World Peace. Still, Barnes averaged 7.8 points on 45.2% shooting in 22.9 minutes. Through 13 games in April, Barnes increased those averages to 8.8 points on 44.1% and 7.8 rebounds in 26.8 minutes. Once he sprained his right ankle April 22 against Oklahoma City and his subsequent neck injury, Barnes' shooting, cutting and energy also took a dive.
"I felt I was in a pretty good rhythm at the end of the season," said Barnes, who said the ankle and neck doesn't need any additional rehab. "I was really excited about the playoffs. To sprain my ankle and then have the injury to my neck heading into days before the playoffs was frustrating."
This is hardly how Barnes envisioned his career as a Laker.
Instead of taking a guaranteed $7 million to sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Barnes joined the Lakers in the 2010 off-season by agreeing to a two-year deal worth $3.6 million, including a player option for the final season. The former UCLA product did so in hopes of pursuing a championship.
He maintained he doesn't hold any regrets. Barnes also vowed playing for the Lakers has "always been a dream of mine."
Yet, he acknowledged he may have to reconsider that stance as the Lakers appear intent this off-season on making personnel changes.
"The last few teams I went to, it was in search of a ring," Barnes said. "It's fallen short and I've always turned down a significant amount of money to do that. That's something we'll have to sit down and see."
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