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2012-2013 Clipper Player Previews: Matt Barnes

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For three weeks this preseason, we'll be publishing Player Previews for each of the 15 players currently under contract with the Clippers. In some cases there may not be much difference from last season's Exit Interviews, but the team does have seven new faces, and there were some significant developments over the off-season for some of the returning players as well, so let's get caught up with all of them before the season starts. Today's edition, former Laker and long ago Clipper, Matt Barnes.

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Matt Barnes career stats (9 seasons):











Matt Freaking Barnes is a Los Angeles Clipper. Again.

Matt Barnes played four years of college ball at UCLA. He was a 2nd round draft pick (by the Memphis Grizzlies in 2002) and was cut in training camp. After a season and a half in the D-league, in 2004, LA Clipper coach Mike Dunleavy brought Barnes up to the LA Clippers. Barnes was Dunleavy's kind of player, not terribly talented, but a tough and willing defender. He lasted only that one season with the Clips but went on to somehow forge a nine-year NBA career including, most recently, a two-year stint with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Barnes epitomizes the player who opposing players hate but teamates love. He memorably threw Clipper star Blake Griffin to the ground in a pre-season game last year (and was rewarded with a flagrant foul), and chirped continually in the press about Griffin. After he was recruited by the Clippers' star point guard Chris Paul this off-season, he was signed only after Barnes explained to Griffin that whatever enmity the two shared, it was always "just basketball". It wasn't the first time Barnes would have to mend fences with a former opponent. When Barnes played with Orlando three years ago (and Golden State before that), he would usually draw the task of defending Kobe Bryant when the Warriors or Magic played the LA Lakers. The tough, mechanical Barnes couldn't be more different than the silky, slippery Bryant but Bryant wasn't pleased with Barnes in-your-face defense... then turned around and helped the Lakers recruit Barnes to the LA three summers ago.

Matt Barnes is as sophisticated as a can opener. Actually he kind of looks like a can opener, or a chunk of knotted rope. He's 6'6", 225 pounds and probably a natural small forward. He isn't smooth. He's not quick. He's lean, not particularly tall, not much of a jumper, or a gifted offensive player, but he's as tough and smart, and he's taken his limited D-league tools and he's stretched them into a surprising lengthy NBA career. He rebounds, plays within the offense, and is a grade-A defender. He's too small to play power forward, too slow to play guard, but he'll give you decent minutes at either spot... and he'll willingly play hard defense against your opponent's best offensive player.

So, how does Matt Barnes fit on the Clips? In a perfect world, Barnes is pretty far down the depth chart. Caron Butler and Grant Hill are in front of him at the small forward spot. Chauncey Billups, Jamal Crawford, Willie Green, and perhaps Eric Bledsoe are in front of him at the two, and Griffin and Lamar Odom figure to be in front of him at the four. But Hill is 40 years old, Butler faded with too many minutes last year, who knows when Billups will be ready, Crawford and Green are streaky and not renowned defenders, and Lamar Odom doesn't look like he's ready to play. I think we'll see a lot of Barnes, especially in the early part of the season. He'll make a pest of himself on defense, he'll pull down rebounds, run the floor, he's a solid shooter from the corner, the ball never sticks in his hands, and he strokes his foul shots (.729 lifetime). He's a comfortable role-player coming off the bench with guys like Bledsoe and Crawford, and he's a triple-A insurance policy at the small forward spot with the old and somewhat fragile Hill and Butler.

It's a little baffling why the Lakers didn't pursue Matt Barnes in the offseason. His off-court troubles with the law (a domestic abuse charge that dates from his time before his tenure with the Lakers, and an arrest for driving without a license this summer, a strange charge that was reduced to a misdemeanor) might have something to do with it. But the Lakers have other athletes on their roster with more questionable backgrounds. Barnes' only sin with the Lakers appears to be that he wasn't good enough to be a starter or replace Lamar Odom as a sixth man. But Barnes is playing for the veteran's minimum! Isn't he the equivalent of or better than the Laker's chief reserves this year? The answer is almost certainly yes.

Last year I hated Matt Barnes. I hated his punk attitude and his slouchy, too-many-tats, and in-your-face demeanor. But the guy never backs down (44 technical fouls in his ten-year career)... and I think he fills a Clipper need. As the Clippers assembled the 2012-13 squad I thought the Clippers would miss the glaring, hostile presence of Kenyon Martin. But Martin apparently wore out his welcome with Coach Vinny Del Negro (and/or wanted too much money). But no one's going to miss Martin hurling up those ludicrous bricks from the foul line. Barnes isn't as big as Martin and can't play center, but he's younger, and surprisingly, just about as good a rebounder (lifetime per 36 of 7.6 TRB for Barnes vs. 8.0 for Martin)... and similarly fiery and confrontational.

So, hey Matt Barnes, we'll grudgingly forgive you those two years in purple and gold. Welcome home.