Clippers forward Matt Barnes is ready to move on after searching for his aunt's killer and enduring the Donald Sterling saga
SACRAMENTO - Despite a rough 2014 thus far for Matt Barnes and his Los Angeles Clippers, both the Sacramento native and the organization can see a light at the end of a chaotic tunnel.
The former Del Campo high school star returned to Sacramento this week to gear up his offseason training and preparations for the new season. When training camp opens in October, Barnes will be heading into his 12th NBA season in search of less drama, as well as a championship with the Clippers.
Just being healthy would be a good start. Last season Barnes dealt with his share of injuries from the beginning. To start the season, he missed playing time due to a deep right thigh bruise. Then he missed 16 games after suffering a retina tear in his left eye, which required surgery.
The Clippers weathered the injury storm, dealing with lengthy absences from Chris Paul and J.J. Redick, in addition to Barnes, who still appeared in 62 games last season - 40 of them as a starter.
As the expectations for the Clippers were nothing short of a championship, last season quickly became mired in distractions right as they began their playoff run.
The team had to endure the enormous distraction from their disgraced owner Donald Sterling, as the drama unfolded on a national stage during last season's NBA playoffs.
It was during the opening round when the drama first unfolded, when audio tapes surfaced with Sterling making racist remarks to his girlfriend V. Stiviano during an argument.
Barnes and his teammates found themselves in the center of a media frenzy and, although they debated to protest and not play until Sterling's punishment was handed down, they decided to let the NBA and new Commissioner Adam Silver deal with Sterling and they would play.
That decision didn't come easily, as head coach Doc Rivers and his players met to weigh their options.
"Everyone thought they had the answer on what to do and what we should do," Barnes said. "Doc brought us in and talked to us the morning after it happened. We all got to air out our feelings, but we decided as a team for Doc to be the only one answering questions and for us to concentrate on basketball, and I think that relieved a little bit of the pressure."
With the distraction of Sterling hanging over them, the third-seeded Clippers were pushed to a game seven by the Golden State Warriors. Barnes suffered a dislocated toe and still tried to play through the pain while chasing after Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry.
Commissioner Silver would issue a lifetime ban to Sterling and the Clippers would eventually go on to win a game seven over the Warriors, advancing to the next round against the Oklahoma City Thunder. They would lose that series 4-2.
The season came to a disappointing end but the elimination provided an escape from the media circus surrounding the uncertain future of the team.
Then came tragedy for Barnes and his family on July 8, when his aunt, 48-year-old Tanganyika Williams was found stabbed in the neck and laying on a south Sacramento street. She died at a local hospital later that day. Police named her husband, 51-year-old Michael Williams the primary suspect in the fatal stabbing.
Barnes, who resides in Los Angeles went to his social media platforms via Twitter and Instagram posting two pictures of Williams and pleading for the public's help to assist police in locating him.
"At the time, it was really my only outlet," he said. "Being in L.A. and my aunt being killed out here, I couldn't get up here at the time. Social media has been good and bad for me. I just tried it, I threw the guy's mugshot up there and told the story."
The social media manhunt worked as the pictures and messages from Barnes went viral. They were even shared by other NBA players and several celebrity friends who shared his pleas for help to their large followings.
On July 29, Williams was arrested thanks to a citizen's tip to the Sacramento County Sheriffs Department. He was located less than five miles from where the stabbing occurred.
Barnes felt the awareness that stemmed from his social media experiment, along with the national media attention he received helped bring Williams to justice.
"Through all of that, someone called in with a tip and we got him arrested," he said. "It was kind of a shot in the dark. It worked and I thank everyone out there who supported and helped that out. Him (being) caught (and) him going to prison for the rest of his life doesn't bring my aunt back, but it let's our family rest at peace a little more and know that he's going to have to do time for the crime."
Barnes found a new appreciation on the impact social media can have. Even finding support from strangers he's never met before, who didn't know his aunt Tanganyika.
"She was my dad's little sister, she was the baby of the family. You know, she was a little crazy, a little wild, but she always wanted to have a good time and that's how we'll always remember her. She was the life of the party and we're going to miss her."
With Barnes and his family at peace, now the focus turns back to his offseason preparations - free from distractions. He and his teammates now celebrating their new owner Steve Ballmer, who purchased the organization for $2 billion - approved unanimously by the NBA Board of Governors.
A California court approving the sale to Ballmer last Tuesday, officially ended the reign of Sterling, who just three days later was denied an appeal.
The drama finally concludes and Ballmer takes over control of the Clippers organization, in search of a new beginning. He will be celebrated and welcomed to Clipper nation during a rally scheduled for Monday at Staples Center.
Ballmer, the former Microsoft CEO who partnered with investor Chris Hansen just a little over a year ago and was denied by the NBA their attempt to purchase the Kings and relocate them from Sacramento to Seattle.
As a native of Sacramento, Barnes was thankful that didn't happen.
"He finally got his team; I'm glad he didn't take the Kings from Sacramento so this city can keep their team," Barnes said. "He's our new owner now, so I'm excited and looking forward to playing for him."
Team captains Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, along with Barnes stated publicly their intent to boycott if Sterling had remained in power, despite his lifetime ban by the NBA.
A new era for the Clippers, and for Barnes, who feels like this upcoming season will be redemption for their early playoff exit mired in chaos.
"It was frustrating," he said. "We thought we built a team who could contend for a title. On and off the court it was a little messy. Luckily we have everything figured out now.
"We have a new owner now and we can just focus on basketball and we're excited about that."
Follow Sean Cunningham on Twitter: @News10Sean