BARNES HAS BRIGHT FUTURE AFTER CAREER SEASON

After changing teams eight times in the last 10 seasons, the future is looking brighter than ever for veteran free agent Matt Barnes.

Matt Barnes

Matt Barnes was exhausted. Sitting in front of his locker, a large white towel draped over his head and shoulders, Barnes leaned forward, his face resting in both palms.

Thirty-seven minutes, 30 points, 10 rebounds and a fourth consecutive loss and his second first season with the Clippers was over. The guy Chris Paul once praised as one of the fittest players he had ever played alongside was finally spent.

“I was just out there being more aggressive,” Barnes said after the game. “Numbers don’t really matter when your team loses. We tried to do everything we could.”

Barnes certainly did.

He played out of position, at center for a spell in the second half, battling Zach Randolph at times when the Clippers went zone as a way of throwing a life preserver to their season in Game 6 in Memphis. He was a dead-eye from 3-point range, reminiscent of a stretch between December 8 and January 15 when he nailed 42.6 percent of his 101 shots from beyond the arc. And he exuded the same kind of measured toughness and fire that he did through 80 regular-season games.

The Clippers fell, 118-105, and were eliminated from the playoffs earlier than expected. But Barnes, a 33-year-old free agent to be, capped off his most productive NBA season with a career-playoff performance 10 years between stints with the Clippers.

Afterwards Barnes was complimented by a fan on Twitter for his effort, and responded by writing, “U might have someone more talented, but u not gonna find a bigger heart or hustle than mine.”

That’s likely what left him so exhausted postgame and it’s certainly what’s personified his career as much as what he calls an “addiction” to tattoos and his frequent travels between teams.

He’s played for eight teams overall, been traded once as an active player, and swapped uniforms nine times, including agreeing to join the Clippers, where he made his NBA debut in 2004, in August after back-to-back seasons with the Lakers. He said it was gratifying to get somewhat of a second-chance after playing through ankle and neck injuries in the final month of the lockout shortened year.

“The two prior years being with the Lakers, having good regular seasons and getting hurt going into the playoffs was just very frustrating,” Barnes said. “Basically, I was jobless up until a few weeks before camp and really want to thank the organization for, I guess, taking a chance on me and going out on a limb and it worked out for both of our benefits.”

The chance, according to Clippers Vice President of Basketball Operations Gary Sacks, came after evaluating the team’s needs during a whirlwind of acquisitions at the beginning of the free agent period last summer.

“We were still evaluating at that point positions on our team that we felt like we needed or could possibly help us,” Sacks said. “Just because he was the last guy signed, doesn’t necessarily mean we had him slotted into that kind of role as a 14th man or 15th man. That being said, yeah, it’s been a great season for Matt. I think he’s really contributed to this team in so many ways.”

Barnes shot 34.2 percent from 3-point range on the season, his second best shooting percentage from distance in his career, scored a career-high 10.3 points and was fourth on the Clippers with 4.6 rebounds. He was also a versatile defender, which was something that appealed to Paul when he helped recruit the wiry forward.

A year ago, Barnes had fewer options. But entering free agency, once again, he would prefer to stay with the team that gave him his first shot.

“Obviously, I’m very comfortable here. L.A. is home, my family loves it here,” Barnes said. “Obviously, this is going to be one of my top choices, but this is a business and I think I know that probably better than any player in the league.”

Barnes has played on a single-year contract seven of his 10 seasons, including his first season in the league when he signed a pair of 10-day contracts with the Clippers as a Development League call-up midway through 2003-04. His first stint with the Clippers last 38 games before he signed with his hometown Sacramento Kings the following October.

“The second time around here with this organization has been amazing,” Barnes said. “The first year was fun because it was my rookie year, a learning experience. But the organization’s come so far and it’s good to be a part of the change because I was here when we were the doormats. So, it’s good to be a part of the change and hopefully we can grow our own tradition here.”

For perhaps the first time in his career, Barnes, ever the journeyman, might have a large role in helping build that tradition.