LOS ANGELES – There’s the villain Matt Barnes persona.
Then there’s the Matt Barnes the Clippers players got to know – the one they still talk to after his departure to Memphis, even on the night they prepared to play him for the first time since the trade.
“There’s a few guys I’ve played with over the course of my career that you just look forward to seeing,” said J.J. Redick. “It’s not that you get juiced to play against, you just build a relationship with them so you’re excited to see them during the season. Matt’s one of those few guys, not just for me, but for a lot of guys in this locker room.”
Playing three years with the Clippers, including one and a half as a starter, Barnes built numerous friendships with Clippers players.
They still exist today.
Hours before tip-off Monday night against the Grizzlies, Barnes said DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin were playfully talking trash to him, just as any friends would give each other flak.
Even Barnes’ twin sons built a friendship while Barnes was with the Clippers. They could often be found running around the locker room with Chris Paul’s son and other players’ kids.
“It’s still family,” Barnes said before the game. “Just for the next 48 minutes, they’re going to be the enemy for a little while.”
Much like brothers, Jordan had an almost identical answer prior to playing the Grizzlies.
“I love Matt,” Jordan said. “Matt’s like a brother to me. But for 48 minutes on Monday, I’ll hate Matt. That’s about it. I’m pretty sure if you ask him, he’ll say the same thing.”
He knew Barnes well. So does Blake Griffin, who liked how loose Barnes kept things for the group.
But Griffin knows Barnes’ contributions went beyond that.
“He was kind of a guy you could always count on to be in the right spot at the right time,” Griffin said. “I was watching film from last year the other day on the way to the game and there were a couple plays I’d be trapped in the post and he’d cut down the middle, perfect timing. Things like that.”
Adjusting to life without Barnes is an obstacle the Clippers are still figuring out. The Clippers who played with Barnes know the impact he made, but his impressions went beyond the long-time members of the Clippers.
Barnes had an immediate impact on Austin Rivers, who arrived midway through last season. Rivers joked he would talk to Barnes all game Monday night, but he said it good-naturedly.
“It’s crazy, everybody always has this opinion about Matt as a guy,” Rivers said. “People talk about him, ‘Oh, Matt’s a bad this guy, a bad locker room guy.’ All that stuff like that.”
That was something Rivers heard constantly before arriving in Los Angeles. It didn’t take long for him to realize there was nothing to worry about.
Rivers said Barnes was the first player to accept him into the locker room. After a rough opening game against Cleveland, when Rivers was immediately thrown into the fold, it was Barnes there to pick him up.
“He’s an emotional guy, and he says things so people don’t give Matt the credit as a person,” Rivers said. “But Matt’s actually a really great guy and a great teammate.”
It’s still a feeling out process for both the team Barnes left and the one he’s now a part of. The Clippers had to replace their starting small forward, and as Barnes figures out his new role, Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger is happy to incorporate his new piece.
“Teammates welcomed him with open arms, and we love having him,” Joerger said. “We always really, really respected him as an opponent. The guys that you disliked playing against the most are the guys you know will be the best kind of teammates.”
Joerger said he expected “big things” from Barnes, but Barnes has surpassed everything he imagined, calling Barnes a positive presence full of life and energy.
As Barnes makes his return home to Los Angeles, the feelings are bittersweet.
He has great memories of his times in the city and with the Clippers, but he’s now a member of the Memphis Grizzlies, in a place where he can once again compete for a deep playoff run.
Much like he Rivers was when Barnes pulled him aside, Barnes is now the newcomer, trying to adjust to his surroundings.
“Being traded and moving teams, it’s difficult, especially when you have families,” Barnes said. “Austin was new to the team, and I let him know last year we had his back and we had everything he needed. Now, guys on this team have done that for me.”