It's pretty clear now that free-agent forward Matt Barnes won't return to the Orlando Magic, for whom he started 58 games last year, his only campaign in Magic pinstripes. His future destination is coming into focus, however. Brian Windhorst of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported last night that "interest" between Barnes and the Cleveland Cavaliers "is mutual." Barnes likes the Cavs because of the playing time available, while the Cavs like his game.
Meanwhile, David Aldridge reported this morning that Cleveland is "still in the running for Barnes," though it faces stiff competition from the L.A. Lakers, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, and Toronto Raptors, who are "making strong pitches."
Barnes signed a two-year deal worth a flat $1.6 million annually last summer, but did not exercise his player option for the coming season, making him an unrestricted free agent. Because the Magic do not own his Bird rights, they cannot go over the cap to re-sign him. The best offer they can make is $1.92 million. GM Otis Smith said last week he had not offered Barnes a deal this summer, and has decided that keeping J.J. Redick and signing free-agent Quentin Richardson was enough to bolster his team's wing depth. Thus, Barnes is the odd man out.
Barnes nearly signed with Cleveland last year, though Orlando was his first choice. Magic franchise center Dwight Howard, who at the time shared an agent with Barnes, helped bring the journeyman to Orlando. Howard has since signed with Dan Fegan; Goodwin Sports Management still represents Barnes.
My guess is that Barnes cashes in on his solid season by taking a portion of the mid-level exception. I can't envision him signing for a minimum salary because, at just 30 years old and a veteran of seven teams in seven years, Barnes could use some stability and long-term, guaranteed money. If I'm right, that'd take the Lakers, Celtics, and Heat out of the running. Cleveland, to me, looks like the best destination for him.