OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The Golden State Warriors returned home for all of a day and Matt Barnes hitched a last-minute ride with a former summer league pal to Sacramento on Tuesday to pick up some clothes and his car before hitting the road again with his new — and old — team.
It has been a whirlwind few days. And he's loving it.
Barnes is thrilled to be back in the Bay Area after a decade away, helping the league's top team try to withstand the devastating loss of leading scorer Kevin Durant to a knee injury that is expected to sideline him at least through this month. Barnes was part of the 2007 Warriors playoff team that ended a 12-year postseason drought.
"To come back 10 years later, the organization's changed, players have changed, but to get a chance to be with this group of guys as well is going to be amazing," Barnes said Wednesday after shootaround and before his first home game back with the Warriors at Oracle Arena against Boston.
The tattooed forward received a rousing standing ovation upon checking into the game for the first time with 3:41 remaining in the opening quarter.
Once the Sacramento Kings dealt DeMarcus Cousins to New Orleans during the All-Star game last month, Barnes was ready to move forward and general manager Vlade Divac understood Barnes' desire to join a winner.
"My mindset is, they're starting over, and also my mind says I'm too old to start over," Barnes said. "... It was just kind of a waiting game. I just stayed ready. I was working out in L.A., hanging out with my kids."
The phone began ringing immediately — Durant called, Draymond Green, too. James Harden and so many others, from San Antonio to the champion Cavaliers.
All of those people reaching out meant so much to Barnes, who turns 37 on Thursday and is in his 14th NBA season.
"That's what I kind of hang my hat on. I've obviously had a well-traveled career and there have been a lot of downs and some ups," he said. "But I think to have the respect of the guys I play against, the guys I compete against, who are obviously some of the best guys in the game, to have those guys want me as a part of their team kind of says a lot for me where I kind of know that hey, at least I've done a pretty good job at some point."
Barnes wanted to come back to a familiar place where he had a legitimate chance to chase a championship alongside a star-studded cast, including two-time reigning MVP Stephen Curry.
"He fits right in. He's a guy that just knows how to play. He's played for a long time in this league and he survived by being smart, effective and multi-positional," coach Steve Kerr said. "... It helps that he has a history here."
If all goes well, Durant could return for about the final week or two of the regular season. Barnes will do his part, however small a role it might be, to fill the void in the meantime.
"Coming here was No. 1," said Barnes, who spoke to Durant last summer about them both coming to the Bay Area. "With what they have going on, I want to come in and fit in, I don't want to come in and stand out. I want to be a small part of hopefully something big in helping this team get another ring."
Barnes brings a unique connection to the "We Believe" Warriors playoff team of 10 years ago, the Don Nelson-led group that earned the franchise's first postseason berth since 1994 also under Nelson's guidance.
"It feels amazing," Barnes said. "It's special for me to have a connection to this team. I think that 'We Believe' team kind of started something. Obviously this team came and picked it up and took it to the ultimate level. For myself to have a chance to come back and compete with these guys and hopefully help them get another one is a dream come true."
Those '07 Warriors stunned Dallas in a six-game first-round series before losing to Utah in the Western Conference semifinals.
Curry was a rookie two years later, and he appreciates what Barnes and that group did for Golden State.
"It is kind of cool," Curry said of Barnes' connection to the past. "When I first got here as a rookie that was the talk with everybody who came to the Warriors was, 'Can you all duplicate what they did?' To have a guy that lived that out and got the Warriors kind of on the map early on, it's pretty special to have him back."