For a guy who has spent the past few seasons being a solid role player on quality teams — Orlando first then the Los Angeles Lakers — it took a while this summer for Matt Barnes to catch on with a team.
And Barnes understands why.
“First and foremost, me being injured last year during the playoffs and not really playing to well had something to do with it…” Barnes told ProBasketballTalk. “Then I had a little arrest situation out here and that probably had something to do with it.”
Let’s take those in order. First, Barnes was battling ankle and neck injuries during the playoffs and that hampered his play. Look at it this way, during the regular season he played nearly 23 minutes a game with a PER of 15.5 (right at the league average); then during the playoffs his minutes dropped to under 17 minutes a game with a PER of 4.2.
He said both his neck and ankle are 100 percent now heading into training camp with the Los Angeles Clippers, who signed him to a one-year deal.
Then there was his arrest in Manhattan Beach (near his California home) which started out being over an outstanding traffic warrant but included a resisting arrest charge. Barnes says he has an Oct. 1 court date, and while he wouldn’t get into details he said his attorney says everything is good and the situation will be quickly resolved.
Those issues were not enough to stop the Clippers from signing him, in part because Chris Paul recruited him. Barnes is pretty happy with where he landed.
“I think they are heading in a great direction, with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin as the leaders…” Barnes said. “They also added lot of playoff experience and veterans in the mix.”
Barnes becomes the latest at a crowded wing spot for the Clippers — Caron Butler probably starts at the three, Jamal Crawford is the sixth man then Grant Hill as well as Barnes are in the mix. Once healthy, Chauncey Billups likely starts at the two guard spot (he doesn’t play point with the Clippers) and Willie Green is behind him.
Minutes are not going to be easy to come by for Barnes.
“Throughout my career I’ve never been handed anything… the cards have been stacked against me since I started so I just look at it as a great opportunity, and if I go in and do what I need to do I’ll land minutes. If not, I’ll be ready to help the team,” Barnes said.
After 10 years in the league, Barnes has learned to adjust to fighting for minutes and coming off the bench in a way a lot of pros with shorter careers never do.
“It’s learning to be professional, whether you come out of HS or spent some years in college, once you land in the NBA for the majority of guys it is a rude awakening,” Barnes said. “At whatever level you played at you were the man and it’s an adjustment. You’re not used to not playing, to sitting. But you have to realized your one of few people in the world blessed to play basketball in this league and you just have to work at it.”
Barnes spent his summer doing MMA workouts, staying in shape — and learning to eat right. Like a pro. At age 32. Because he said suddenly his body wasn’t responding from workouts the way it used to.
“I’ve been one of those guys who just eats what I like, and this is the first year I’ve learned how to eat — the right proteins, vegetables,” Barnes said. “ I work as hard as anyone in the world but I’m a bad eater. But my family has supported my changed and are eating this with me.”
Barnes also was back running his youth basketball camp on the campus of EA Sports. So yes, the campers spend the day working on their basketball skills on the hardwood at the EA Sports campus in Northern California, but when they take breaks they do it in the EA Cafe and EA Arcade — a little slice of video game heaven. Barnes gets in there and competes with the kids on games as well.
But now he’s back home, eating right and getting ready to fight for his minutes with the Clippers. The same fight he’s had for years, it seems. But he always seems to land on his feet.