Since signing Steve Blake to a contract worth $4 million a year earlier this month, the Lakers have been trying to figure out what to do with their remaining MLE money, which comes to a bit more than $1.7 million. Raja Bell was the first option, but he got stolen away by Utah. Now attention is turning to Matt Barnes, a 30-year-old swingman that I'm obliged to describe as a "journeyman." Barnes was supposedly en route to Toronto a few days ago, but a sign-and-trade deal involving his old team, the Orlando Magic, fell apart because someone forgot to check the salary cap rules. Now, according to Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski, Barnes is close to signing with the Lakers.
Snap a ball in our face and try to make us flinch, Woj:
Unless the Cleveland Cavaliers raise their current multiyear offer to Matt Barnes on Thursday, the free-agent forward plans to sign a one-year contract with the Los Angeles Lakers, league sources told Yahoo! Sports. The Cavaliers are offering as much as a three-year deal that starts around $3.5 million a season, but Barnes wants more money if he’s going to sign with a non-championship contender, sources said. Barnes would take a $1.7 million deal to join the Lakers.
If true, and Woj's sources are credible more often than not, that's a pretty remarkable compromise on Barnes's part. The guy has never had a big contract in the NBA. His highest annual salary was when he made $3 million with Golden State in 2007-08. He's made less than $9 million total over the course of his NBA career, and as someone who'll be 31 next summer and 32 after the probable lockout year, not even a full-MLE deal is in his future. For a guy in this position, no reasonable person could blame him for taking the most money available, especially if the best offer is double the second best.
But Woj says he wants to play for a contender, and the Lakers could be the beneficiary. Cleveland's offseason just keeps getting better.
First, the positives of signing Barnes. He's strong and athletic and can be the consummate "energy and defense" sparkplug off the bench. He's fearless and kind of a prick, the type of guy you hate when you're playing against him but love when he's on your side.
He's very similar, actually, to Lakers-era Rick Fox. Foxy was a slightly better outside shooter than Barnes is, and Barnes is the far superior rebounder, but they're almost identical in size. What Fox did for the Lakers in the 2000 and 2001 seasons (which were his age-30 and -31 years) provides a useful proxy for the role Barnes would likely play on the 2010-11 team.
The downside to adding Barnes would be that it creates a logjam at the forward position and fails to address the need for another shooting guard and big man. Here, hypothetically, is how the depth chart could look.
Starter 2nd String 3rd String 4th String PG Fisher Blake SG Bryant Brown * Vujacic SF Artest Barnes Walton Ebanks * PF Gasol Odom C Bynum Caracter *
* = still unsigned
I'm not so worried about Luke Walton getting crammed down in the rotation. Luke will miss his share of games because of injury, so there's nothing wrong with loading up with more talent behind Artest. It's a little more troubling to think of Devin Ebanks being forgotten at the far end of the bench. If he's stuck with AMMO minutes this year and then there's indeed a lockout the following year, that's two seasons of lost development for him. Alternatively, the Lakers could choose simply not to sign him, which would be even more disappointing.
But the Lakers have to fill out their bench somehow, and Barnes can give them quality minutes. Especially since he sounds hugely motivated to play for the Lakers, you know he'll be a max-effort guy, which is always welcome. His signing, I should point out, doesn't affect cap availability for Shannon Brown. If the Lakers end up re-signing UPS, it'll be pursuant to the Bird exception, not the MLE. I also like that Barnes's deal would be for one year only. No point overextending your commitments for a guy in his 30s.
So yeah, adding Barnes could be a snazzy move. As a GM, you can never really go wrong by layering on the talent and letting your all-time-greatest coach sort it out.
Follow Dex on Twitter here.