Journeyman forward wants to prove Clippers' Rivers, critics wrong
POSTED: Oct 23, 2015 11:31 AM ET
The grit-and-grind ways of the Memphis Grizzlies may end up suiting journeyman Matt Barnes perfectly.
Matt Barnes is done talking about his beef with that coach, and anyway that controversial dust-up was over quickly; you might say in the first round. But Barnes is also holding a grudge against another, more accomplished coach, and this one will last at least until Nov. 9 -- if not beyond.
On that date, Barnes and his new team, the Memphis Grizzlies, will visit L.A. and his old team. Well, Barnes says he isn't looking forward to playing against the Clippers specifically.
"I can't wait to play against Doc Rivers," he emphasizes.
Doc never wanted me. He couldn't wait to get rid of me. Doc and I never saw eye to eye. He tried to get me out of there the second he got there, so it wasn't too surprising to me what happened when things went south.
– Matt Barnes, on Clippers coach Doc Rivers
In a 12-year NBA career where he's had to fight for his job and his paycheck at almost every turn, Barnes isn't one to back away from a challenge. He has been programmed to carry himself that way from all the pink slips, demotions, short stays and dead ends. This is someone who was drafted No. 46 and has played on nine teams and never given the security of a lengthy contract. And so, in that position, you get defensive, protective, and learn to scrap for everything you've got. That of course makes him ideal for the Grizzlies, the ultimate grinder joining a Grindhouse Gang that can't shoot straight or look pretty but will get in your grill.
Truth be told, Barnes wanted to stay and finish his career with the Clippers but knew that would never happen, knew it almost from the day when he got a new coach two years ago.
"Doc never wanted me," he said. "He couldn't wait to get rid of me. Doc and I never saw eye to eye. He tried to get me out of there the second he got there, so it wasn't too surprising to me what happened when things went south."
By going south, Barnes means a Western Conference semifinals playoff series that ranks among the lowest moments in Clippers history, which says something. You know how it ended against the Houston Rockets: The Clippers blew a 3-1 series lead and a 19-point lead in Game 6 and really didn't have any excuses for one of the biggest collapses in recent league history.
Well, actually Rivers saw an excuse: He felt an upgrade was needed at small forward and subtracted Barnes while adding Paul Pierce and Lance Stephenson. Barnes was strong in Game 7 of the first round against the defending-champion San Antonio Spurs, adding 17 points and big defensive plays in the final moments. In Game 1 against the Rockets, he came through with 20 points. But after that he couldn't make open 3-pointers (he shot a frigid 19.4 percent in the series) and saw only 22 minutes in the final game.
That embarrassing loss forced Rivers to act quickly last summer. Rivers was under the gun as a GM because past moves didn't work and he needed changes, so Barnes was shipped to the Hornets and then to the Grizzlies, who drafted him in 2002.
"I was the first trade of the summer," said Barnes. "Like I said, he couldn't wait."
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Barnes is now 35, no longer a starter and part of the Memphis committee that gobbles up minutes at small forward -- nothing new with that problematic position on the Grizzlies. Just as Rivers quickly pulled the trigger on Barnes, the Grizzlies couldn't wait to get rid of Rudy Gay and his shot selection and heavy salary. And yet, here the Grizzlies are, three years later, still searching in vain for his replacement.
It's not that Memphis misses Gay in one sense because, after all, the Grizzlies made the playoffs every season. They even reached the West finals once and overall still seem happy in this Rudy-free zone. But since trading him in December of the 2012-13 season, they've lacked a swingman who can score in bunches, which is their one true weakness. It limits their offense, makes them predictable and puts lots of pressure on point guard Mike Conley to make big outside shots. And when you're locked inside a log jam at the top of the West, you need an edge that vaults you beyond OKC, San Antonio and the rest. That's something Memphis doesn't have -- at least offensively.
For Memphis, the missing piece is so very evident. Where's the lethal weapon, the shooter who keeps the defense on red alert, the dependable player who gets the ball for the last shot?
An old Tayshaun Prince, a gimpy Quincy Pondexter and now, an inconsistent Jeff Green have all tried to fill that spot. Only Green managed to average double figures, and yet he's a 42-percent shooter who doesn't show great range or force the other team to make frantic adjustments. Combine the fact the Grizzlies also lack a scorer at the big guard spot and Memphis is getting questionable production from two spots that demand points.
Remember when the Golden State Warriors intentionally left Tony Allen open from 15 feet in the playoffs last season? Allen and the Grizzlies were exposed as a team that looks uncomfortable when outside jumpers are necessary. Only Minnesota made fewer 3-pointers last season than the Grizzlies, and no other contender struggles more offensively from the swingman spots than Memphis (which manages to win in spite of it).
Even though the city of Memphis and this organization has welcomed me with open arms, I play every game like it's my last. ... Been no different my whole career. That's kept me hungry.
– Memphis Grizzlies forward Matt Barnes
Until they find him, they must manage with players like Barnes while keep leaning on the formula that works for them: defense, inside scoring and smart point guard play. But how much longer will they get premium production on the block from Zach Randolph, who's an old 34? And can they squeeze past the OKCs and San Antonios and Golden States, title contenders who can roll up the points, primarily with defense?
"I think so," said Barnes. "I've always respected this team and what it does in order to win. This is a defense-first team. I've never been on a team that paid this much attention to defensive detail. It's something I appreciate and a place where I think I will thrive."
Barnes is not only thankful that he was re-routed to a contender, but a team that thrives on physical play and will punish if necessary. He played the enforcer on every team in his career and is now thrilled he won't need to glare at Randolph and Allen. Barnes laughed at that thought.
Joining The Crowd
Matt Barnes and Aron Baynes find themselves in the stands after battling for the loose ball.
"I never had teammates who had that same mentality that I had, so to speak," he said. "I've had to go at Z-Bo to help Blake (Griffin), or try to calm down Tony to get him off Jamal (Crawford). It's good to have guys on my team like that, so we can create hell for everyone else."
Will the Clippers miss that swagger, and who will act as a bodyguard for Griffin and Chris Paul now?
"There's a lot of things that didn't show up in the box score or in the stat sheet that I did, on the court and off the court and in the locker room that I know they don't have anymore. They know what type of guy I am," said Barnes, leaving it at that.
Memphis wants Barnes to be himself, meaning, to mix it up and blend into the grinding personality of the team. Yet the Grizzlies also want him to hit the open three when the defense collapses on Gasol and Randolph, same as they want from Carter and Green and Courtney Lee and everyone else in the "committee." It could very well be that the Grizzlies' chances of going deep into the post-season will depend on that.
"This team fights," said Barnes. "That's how it survives. I can relate. Even though the city of Memphis and this organization has welcomed me with open arms, I play every game like it's my last. Play as hard as I possibly can. Been no different my whole career. I've had to fight every year. That's kept me hungry."
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