Matt Barnes Doesn’t Mind Being the “Villain”
Nobody expected Matt Barnes and the Los Angeles Clippers to be the best team in L.A. in 2013. While Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard try to juggle their bipolar relationship and save the Lakers’ unexpected season, the Clippers continue to win games and grow closer as a unit. Currently the Clippers are in first place in the Pacific division and hold the fourth best record in the NBA. Coming into training camp, though, the Clippers had seven new players, including Barnes, who signed a one-year deal in September. In some cases bringing in so many new faces can be a challenge, but this Clippers team had a chance to grow closer together during their nine-day trip to China as part of the NBA China Games in October.
“It started with the guys that were here last year”, Barnes said to HOOPSWORLD. “The old guys really welcomed us with open arms. We had the games in China, where we saw each other every single day. It gave us a great chance to bond. This is one of those unique teams where everyone is pretty much married with kids and even our wives get along with one another.”
In the Clippers locker room Barnes is beloved by his teammates for his intensity and his strong work ethic, but he has had to deal with being labeled as a villain after a number of suspensions during his ten-year career. Last month Barnes was suspended one game for shoving Timberwolves center Greg Stiemsma in the neck. While Barnes didn’t mind throwing the word “villain” out when describing how fans of opposing teams view him, he insists he’s not a bad guy.
“I look at my teammates like I look at my family”, Barnes said. “I’ll do anything for them. I have their back and they know that. Whether they want me to be a villain or a bad guy, everyone needs to be something. It doesn’t really matter what other people say about me.”
While Barnes hasn’t been affected by this negative persona off the court, he explains how on the court it can be a curse.
“Because I have a reputation as someone who is physical, I think that sticks with people,” Barnes said. “There are times during a game where it may just be a hard foul or a regular foul and they get scrutinized because of my reputation.”
That grit is something that really intrigued Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro when he found out Barnes was signing with the Clippers.
“Matt is a utility player”, Coach Del Negro said. “He gets you steals and blocks. We also put him on some of the better offensive players, he’s got very good length and he can also hit big shots. His toughness really helps us on both ends.”
The NBA game hasn’t always come easy for Barnes. Despite playing four years at UCLA, Barnes was selected in the second round of the 2002 draft, traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers and then cut before the season started. After spending a season in the D-League with the Fayetteville Patriots and a season with the Long Beach Jam of the ABA, Barnes got his first crack at the NBA with the Clippers. This season Barnes is averaging a career best 10.4 points per game off the bench. The minutes aren’t always consistent for Barnes, but he knows that he has earned the respect of his coach and he knows he has to take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves. A part of him still feels like any day his dream could be taken away from him.
“I play every game like it’s my last,” Barnes said. “I’ve been blessed to play in this league for ten years and I never take that for granted. I have a different approach to this game. I’m not a lottery pick or someone who has a huge contract. I play every game like it’s my last. You want to go out there and give everything you have because you never know if you’re going to get 15 minutes or 25 minutes.”
In the second round of the playoffs last season, the Clippers were defeated 4-0 by the first seed San Antonio Spurs. Barnes knows that no matter how well the Clippers do in the regular season, his play, particularly the playoffs will determine if the Clippers decided to bring him back next season.
“I know the organization has taken notice of our success,” Barnes said. “We’re one of the top five defensive teams this season. With Chauncey Billups healthy, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin being one of the best pick and roll duos in the game, we feel like we have the pieces in order to go deep in the playoffs. How you do in the postseason is all that matters in this league.”