Any time an NBA player goes slumming and plays with the “regular” folks on the playground — preferably in a legit summer pro-am in a legit basketball city — he’s going to gain some measure of street cred.
It happened for Gilbert Arenas and Kevin Durant when they took their million-dollar knees to Barry Farms in D.C. It happened for Kobe, Baron Davis, Nate Robinson and a host of others when they played at Rucker Park in Harlem. It happened for Paul Pierce when he ran at L.A.’s Drew League.
But then Matt Barnes had to take it a step too far. Playing in the San Francisco Bay Area Pro-Am earlier this week, Barnes reportedly got into an altercation with the opposing team’s assistant coach and slapped the coach.
While this story may conjure images of Jay-Z‘s famous-versus-brainless line in “Streets Is Watching,” I think Barnes was just practicing for his new role with the Lakers: Hired goon.
Barnes isn’t as important to L.A. as he was to Orlando. Barnes was the Magic’s designated defensive stopper, the guy who would be sicced on Kobe or LeBron or Brandon Roy or whichever All-Star perimeter scorer needed to be held in check. The Lakers already have that guy in Ron Artest. So either Barnes is going to be a backup stopper in L.A., or he’s going to be a designated goon: The guy brought in to play rough, to be an a-hole, to use his fouls (smartly) and try to get in the opponent’s head. It’s part Dennis Rodman, part Shane Battier, part Alvin Mack in The Program. Before he heads to training camp for his new team, Barnes can look to these experts in the art of chi-goon-ery for tips:
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Nene — Tied for fifth in the League in personal fouls. Dwight Howard led the League in personals and techs, but he’s too smiley, too talented, and too athletically graceful to be a goon. Nene is a solid starter who could be an All-Star if he puts everything together someday, but he’s not so good that he wouldn’t be asked to go in an send a message with a flagrant foul. Plus he’s got a quality sneer.
Ersan Ilyasova — The first time I saw Ilyasova, he was little-used rookie in the Madison Square Garden visitor’s locker room, sweating profusely after a pre-game warmup and reminding me of Ivan Drago in the Rocky IV training sequences. The next time I saw Ilyasova, he had a couple more years of Euroleague experience on him and was wreaking havoc in a Bucks/Sixers game, wearing a facemask and slinging elbows and knees everywhere.
David West — Like Dwight, D-West has too much talent to be considered a true goon, but you have to save a spot on the list for the guy who slapped Dirk Nowitzki in the face during a playoff game like he was in a scene from Miller’s Crossing.
Jonas Jerebko — When Tayshaun Prince isn’t smothering the other team’s best wing scorer with his length, quickness and technical acumen, Jerebko can simply beat them up.
Anderson Varejao — Unlike a lot of AV’s critics, I do think he has some identifiable basketball skills. But with all due respect to his screen-setting, off-ball movement and rebounding, Varejao is making $42 million over the next five years because he’s an effective goon.
Zaza Pachulia — You’d think Zaza and his 6-11 frame would be able to help Atlanta’s notoriously undersized front line for more than 14-15 minutes a night, but he always seems to be in foul trouble. As the East now boasts Amar’e, Bosh and Boozer to go with Dwight, KG and Brook Lopez, Zaza’s goon-ish tendencies will be more valuable than ever as the Hawks try to contend for a ‘chip.
Kendrick Perkins — If you were building the ultimate basketball goon, you’d give him either Perk’s face or Biz Markie’s face. Perk has the scowl and sneer down pat; Biz is just ugly.
Joel Anthony — If he wasn’t a goon before, he’s going to be one now. Between D-Wade, LeBron and Bosh, the Heat have a lot of guys that need protection, and the thick-necked, 6-9 scrapper with raw skills is the ideal candidate to provide that physical presence.
Brandon Bass & Marcin Gortat — Another pick for the future. Now that the Magic have first-round pick Daniel Orton to develop as a legit backup for Dwight Howard, Bass and Gortat can become the NBA’s Acolyte Protection Agency. They should even go all-out and wear black gloves when they check into a game. Dwight has needed an enforcer (or two) for a while now.
Reggie Evans — There are certain unwritten rules to playing a sport (e.g. no trying to rip off one’s testicles) that Reggie just doesn’t adhere to. The man has no remorse for anyone standing between him and his next foul.