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Sweet surprise

Barnes stands out among overachieving Warriors

Posted: Thursday May 10, 2007 1:48AM; Updated: Thursday May 10, 2007 4:21PM
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Matt Barnes is averaging 11.6 points and 6.3 rebounds in eight postseason games for the Warriors.
Matt Barnes is averaging 11.6 points and 6.3 rebounds in eight postseason games for the Warriors.
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SALT LAKE CITY -- Matt Barnes is a first bus kind of guy.

Strange as it sounds, the battered bus to the arena is the closest thing the NBA has to a status symbol. Generally speaking, the visiting team makes the hotel-to-arena trek on two buses: the first, which usually arrives three hours before tip-off, contains mainly bench players, reserves who know that the practice they get before the game will almost certainly be the most work they get all night.

Starters rarely arrive on the first bus, choosing instead to take the second shuttle that gets them there about 90 minutes prior to the start. Yet there was Barnes, Golden State's lanky forward, on the EnergySolutions Arena floor, firing jump shots some 2 hours before his team took the court for Game 2. That's starting forward Matt Barnes.

On a team filled with overachievers, Barnes just might win the fictional Mark Anthony award for his surprising success. An end-of-the-bench player for the bulk of his four-year career, Barnes has thrived in the Warriors' helter-skelter system, posting career highs during the regular season in points (9.8), rebounds (4.6) and assists (2.1). After recording just 10 three-pointers in the three previous seasons, Barnes finished 2006-07 with 106, the second most on the team.

His circuitous route to semi-stardom included stops in Los Angeles, Sacramento, New York and, most recently, Philadelphia. The only consistency in Barnes' life was that each year ended the same: with a pat on the back and a push out the door. (Says one of Barnes' former coaches, "It wasn't just us that didn't see this kind of play in him. Three other teams were morons about Matt Barnes.")

It was Barnes's stint with the 76ers, however, that had the most profound impact on his career. In 2005-06, Barnes played in 50 games for Philadelphia, averaging three points in 10.8 minutes. He also developed what can best be described as an acrimonious relationship with Sixers head coach Maurice Cheeks. According to Barnes, Cheeks would frequently degrade him, resulting in his confidence sinking to an all-time low.

"He's the biggest a------ in the world," says Barnes. "He talked to me like I wasn't a man. Other players saw it and would tell me, 'Don't let him talk to you like that.' "

After the season, Barnes seriously considered quitting basketball. An All-America wide receiver in high school, Barnes even contemplated a career in professional football, saying he had "seven or eight" NFL teams interested in bringing him in for a tryout.

"I was real close [to quitting]," says Barnes. "My teammates knew it. My friends knew it. My agent knew it. I was done."

Warriors coach Don Nelson did not know it. Nelson liked the versatility the 6-foot-7 Barnes presented and brought him in for a series of workouts last summer. Barnes impressed Nelson enough to earn an invitation to training camp on a make-good contract.

"I didn't know him, but I knew of him," says Nelson. "I told him we needed a guy like him and said good luck. He's kind of a utility guy that does a little of everything, who can play more than one position, a player you can put in the game and not hurt you."

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