Free-agent forward Matt Barnes may just be the x-factor the 2017-18 Boston Celtics need to complete the offseason’s roster renovation.
When Boston acquired All-Star guard Kyrie Irving this summer, while shipping Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Ante Zizic to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team also dipped a player below the 16-man NBA roster maximum. Though Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe reported a league source told him, “Boston will not rush to fill the spot, and might even keep it open to maintain flexibility,” the C’s may be inclined to add a veteran rotation piece to a squad that on paper seems destined for a second straight Eastern Conference Finals berth.
Enter Matt Barnes, a 14-year veteran and NBA champion with the Golden State Warriors last year. Picking up a seasoned vet who’s already been to the league’s biggest stage would be a wise move, especially for a Boston team that, while loaded with talent, is returning just one starting player from the 2016-2017 campaign.
Barnes has been unreliable at times off the court, with past legal issues and a dramatic personal feud with former Los Angeles Lakers point guard Derrick Fisher hindering the chances of the 37-year-old finding a team for upcoming season. If he can keep his nose clean though, Barnes can provide an electric spark on the defensive end, regardless of his advanced age. Last season, in stops with the Sacramento Kings and Warriors, Barnes proved he can still do everything needed from a middle of the rotation defensive specialist. The former 2002 second-round draft pick averaged 0.6 steals, 0.4 blocks, and 5.2 rebounds per game. Barnes also chipped in some offense off the bench with 7.1 points per contest average on 48.3 percent shooting from the field and a 39.1 percent clip from behind the arc.
None of these numbers will jump off the stat sheet, but having a veteran who can bring an aggressive boost to his team off the pine while playing efficient basketball is huge for an organization with championship aspirations.
Signing a big man to the surplus roster spot would make sense for a Celtics team that ranked 27th in the NBA in total rebounds per game and 23rd in blocked shots a season ago. However, after moving Crowder to the Cavs and guard Avery Bradley to the Detroit Pistons earlier in the offseason, Boston has lost two of their top perimeter defenders. Barnes could be the shot in the arm defensively that helps the Celtics stay an above average team on that end of the court, despite the departures of Crowder and Bradley. Plus, standing at 6-foot-7, the UCLA product can play the power forward position for Boston in small ball lineups if needed.
Barnes will never be the reason Boston beats Cleveland in a playoff serious, yet his tenacity could help spark a flame in the C’s when they need it most in the postseason.