Matt Barnes knows a thing or two about NBA free agency. He's been one on eight different occasions, including this one, and has worn the jerseys of eight different franchises in his 10 years as a pro.
That includes the red, white and blue threads of the Los Angeles Clippers, with whom he's set to extend his second stint by way of a three-year deal worth upwards of $11 million. It's a big step for Barnes, who's never spent more than two consecutive seasons with a single team.
But that nomadism is anything but a blight on Barnes' profile as a basketball journeyman. On the contrary, the fact that teams find space on their rosters and money in their pockets to sign him year after year speaks to his value as a seasoned wing-forward who plays hard and can affect the outcome of a game in a number of ways.
The sort of impact for which Barnes feels he's still underpaid. Bleacher Report recently had a chance to catch up with Barnes on the phone while he was vacationing with his family at Lake Tahoe on the border between California and Nevada. The outspoken veteran of the Association had plenty to say about the free-agent experience, where the Clippers currently stand, the state of UCLA basketball (i.e. his alma mater) and more.
BR: You’ve played for eight NBA teams in 10 seasons. What does it mean to you to have some sense of stability in your career now?
MB: It’s comfortable. It’s more comfortable for me. Having a family now, it’s tougher when it comes to moving and uprooting. It’s not just me anymore packing a bag and going. It’s my wife and my two kids. Being able to stay in LA, it’s where I make my home in the offseason anyway. It’s a good feeling. I’m excited to get to work.
BR: What was it like hopping from team to team for all those years?
MB: It was frustrating. My first four or five years I didn’t really get a chance to play. I was hopping from team to team. For those first five years, I played on five different teams. It was frustrating. There were times when I thought about maybe this wasn’t for me, but once I got a chance to start and a chance to play and kind of establish myself, it’s been a blessing.
BR: How did you deal with the frustration and the uncertainty?
MB: Just to continue to work hard and realize that basketball was a dream of mine. I had a lot of people doubting me, saying I couldn’t do it, so I used that as motivation to work as hard as I could in the summertime. It wasn’t that I was playing, it was just that I didn’t get a chance to play. I never really got a chance to play. I was coming in on non-guaranteed contracts. I would make the team, but then I’d be the last guy on the bench without really ever getting a shot.
When I finally got to Golden State, it was the same circumstance. I was the last guy in camp. I had beat three or four guys out that already had contracts, and I did that. Now, they finally give me a chance to go out and play, and I’ve been playing ever since.
MB: I’ll tell you this much, you just don’t listen to anything. You don’t listen to what teams are saying. You don’t listen to what the media’s saying, because until it actually happens, you never really know. This has been something where I was told everything up at the front, and then things didn’t really happen the way they were supposed to happen, but thankfully I ended up back with the Clippers.
It’s a tough business. Players move, coaches move, rookies come into the league. A lot of different things happen. Teams have cap room. Teams don’t have cap room. There’s a lot of things that go into free agency that people don’t really realize about it.
But that’s why you just sit back and enjoy the process. You can’t really get too caught up in it. You listen to your agent and talk to your family and try to just wait and see what happens.
MB: The one thing I don’t like about the league is I think that people are stereotyped. People with similar numbers but maybe not as good of a reputation will take a lot less money than a guy with a better reputation with maybe less numbers.
I think that happened to me this summer, where guys all around me really that were less than me, if you look at it from a complete basketball standpoint—offense, defense, rebounds, everything I do. The guys that are just shooting jump shots, you know, these guys are getting in the 20 millions.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m thankful for my contract, but I still feel I’m definitely underpaid, but I’ve got another three years to prove myself and try to get a better deal on my way out.
MB: I really don’t know. I really don’t know. My reputation, I’ve heard anything from thug to criminal to just a bad guy.
But if you ask anyone I’ve ever played with, they’ll tell you a completely different story. I just look at my team as my family, and if I happen to get in a confrontation on the court, it’s for them. It’s to have their backs. It’s not that I’m a hothead trying to go out there and trying to stick somebody.
Like I said, I look at my teammates as my family, so if you mess with one of my teammates, you’re messing with me. That’s why I sometimes get in confrontations on the court, and some people don’t like that, but I don’t really care what people think. I know what my teammates are going to appreciate and respect, and I know what I’m about, so that’s all that matters.
MB: It’s a little bit of both. Really, to this point, going into my last season, it’s where I’ll fit the best. In the past, not getting the money I thought I deserved. I took less to money to play with winning teams.
At times, teams weren’t really looking at me as a viable option. It’s been created by the last four or five seasons. If you look at my body of work, I’ve been the best bargain in the league, getting veteran minimums every single year, but starting and getting minutes on a team and helping a team.
Matt Barnes with his wife, reality TV star Gloria Govan.
BR: Who else, aside from yourself and your agent, is usually involved in the free-agent process?
MB: My wife. We definitely talk about it because our family is our own team now, so it’s really about finding the best situation on and off the court when you have a family. That’s some of the stuff we weigh into the process.
BR: What else do you typically weigh, aside from family?
MB: You weigh your family. You weigh in winning. You weigh in the money. And then you really weigh in the city. Is that a city you want to live in for however many years you sign your contract? A lot of stuff goes into it.
BR: Without naming names or going into specifics, how is it dealing with front offices? What’s the difference between those that are easy to work with and those that are typically not as easy to work with?
MB: It just depends. You know, some front offices have players up higher in the ranks and understand that it’s more than just numbers. Some front offices have guys who’ve never touched a basketball making big decisions.
So whatever the franchise feels is their path is good for them, but I wish there was a way to measure how important a player is to a basketball team instead of just going by the numbers because sometimes the numbers don’t tell the whole story. I think that’s what a lot of teams go by.
BR: Do you think there’s a big disparity between teams that are run by ex-players and teams that aren’t?
MB: I wouldn’t necessarily say “run” by ex-players because, you know, as great as MJ was, he’s kind of had a little trouble getting Charlotte off the ground. I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily players vs. non-players. It’s people who’ve been around the game and have played and have a full understanding that it’s not just numbers.
BR: How often do you communicate with other players during free agency? And have you ever been in a situation where you’ve coordinated with another free agent to figure out where you wanted to play?
MB: That’s happened a few times. Once the deal with the Orlando Magic fell through [in 2010], Kobe was one of the first people I talked to. He asked me my situation, what I was looking for and I told him. He was like, “If you want to be a Laker, I think that’d be great.” About a week later, I was a Laker.
After the Lakers thing happened, I had a bad playoffs my second year. I didn’t get too many calls. I happened to get arrested in the summertime, so the teams reaching out to me were kind of limited.
Right after Chris Paul had thumb surgery, I went out there and played and played really well. He said it’s going to be tough this year with the Lakers. “If you and Ron [Metta World Peace] are going to be on the court at the same time…” I said, “Well, I’m a free agent.” He said, “Really? Well, you ought to be a Clipper.” Two or three days later, I was a Clipper.
It’s happened a couple times. I talked to a few different guys this summer that were signed with teams and called me in and asked what I was looking for. I’ve been in constant conversation with Chris Paul this whole offseason, talking about wanting to stay together and play together. I think guys do that a lot.
BR: How big of an impact does it have, on your thinking and on your confidence, to get a call like that from a superstar player saying, “Come play with me. I want you to be on my team”?
MB: I think it’s a big vote of confidence. Like I said, it’s a player’s game and somehow I always end up starting or playing well, so I know I’m respected by my peers as far as the players go, even though the teams have never actually given me the money I deserve. I know that the guys I play with respect me, and that’s as good as it gets as far as not getting the money you deserve but being respected by players.
MB: The way I look at it is, it’s been a blessing. I wasn’t even supposed to be here. I wasn’t supposed to be at UCLA, I wasn’t good enough for UCLA. I wasn’t good enough to make the NBA, and 11 years later, I’ve outlasted a lot of No. 1 picks and lottery picks.
I just look at it as I’m living out my dreams, no matter how tedious it may get or frustrating it may get in the process, I’m living the dream, so there will be no complaints.
MB: I’d probably say the worst thing about free agency is getting underpaid. I’ve been underpaid my whole career, including now. I still feel I’m underpaid. There’s nothing wrong, I’m thankful for the deal I got, but I definitely feel I’m underpaid.
The best part about it is going to a situation where you’re wanted. I feel that I’m wanted. I definitely feel that I’m wanted back. I made sacrifices so they can try and find some other players. It’s going to a situation like this knowing that we have a legitimate chance to win a championship. That’s probably the best part about getting the free-agency process over with and getting started.
BR: Do you think the new collective bargaining agreement has made it tougher for guys like you to be paid according to your actual talents?
MB: Yeah, that and, like I said, just the stereotype. Just the stereotype that’s out there, whether people want to admit it or not, that keeps guys in my situation from being paid.
You know, myself, Kenyon Martin, guys like that, that’ll do anything to support their teammates, play hard, but that, year after year, are among the last guys that get picked up. But in the playoffs, we’re always the guys on the court to finish the game. It is what it is.
MB: Really, just don’t get caught up in all of the hype, all the talking, because it’s just that. It’s talk. I think every team, at one point, says they want you. You could be traded for anyone at any time.
I would say just sit back and enjoy the process. Don’t put too much into it. You know, you have an idea of what you want to do, but don’t get too caught up in it because ultimately, you don’t really have a choice about it.
MB: I think it says a lot, even though we’ve been unable to win any national championships, I think we’ve flourished. I remember a few years ago, we had about 15 guys in the league at that point.
It shows that we have guys who are ready when they get to the league and they have long careers. It makes me proud to say that I’m a Bruin and I’m one of the guys that’s lasted.
MB: I have not. I have not. I know he had a lot of hype coming behind him, so there’s a lot of critics now because he really didn’t have that good of a season. I think he slid a little bit in the draft. He was projected to go top five. He’s got a chance, though.
The one thing I’ll say is, even though Russell Westbrook went high, no one expected him to be a superstar, but he is, and I think that speaks to how Ben Howland’s system didn’t really feature anyone on offense or give anyone with an offensive game a chance to feature their talents. But the jury’s still out on Shabazz. I believe he’s a talented kid and I hope he does well.
MB: I have not. Actually, there’s a basketball alumni dinner this Tuesday. I’m still going to be out of town on vacation, so I’ll have to miss it. He wasn’t necessarily the big name that everyone was looking for, but you don’t always have to have a big name to be a good coach. I wish him the best.
He’s had a lot, coming from a small city to LA, it’s a different situation. You’re in a fish bowl where you’re constantly criticized and critiqued, and I just hope he’s ready for that and that UCLA gets back on track.
MB: You know, I think it’s good.
I think, for my career to start there, over 11 years ago, when we were kind of the doormat of the NBA, and 10 years to later, to see that I’m back in the fold and part of the change, I think that’s probably the most special part to me and something that I don’t want to walk away from.
BR: What are your expectations for this team next season?
MB: I mean, championship. I think we have that type of talent, from the players’ standpoint. Hiring Doc Rivers, a proven coach, a proven winner. I think a championship is definitely our goal.
BR: Have you had a chance to talk to Doc yet?
MB: I’ve talked to Doc a few times—a couple days before free agency, a couple days after he was hired as coach, and then the minute free agency started, I talked to him.
BR: What has he told you about his plans for the team next year?
MB: He was just letting me know how important I am and his vision of what this team’s capable of doing. We certainly have all the talent. We just have to, you know, fix a few bad, old habits. I believe he’s the guy who can do that for us.
MB: Those are two guys that I’ve played with in the past, and guys that can just flat-out shoot the ball. I think that’s what our team felt that we needed help in, and the critics said we didn’t have enough shooters, so we definitely went out and got some shooters.
They’re guys who are going to play hard on both ends of the court, and I’m excited to reunite with them and get back to work with them.
MB: Obviously, I’d say our challenge is with Oklahoma City, with a healthy Russell Westbrook. Houston signing Dwight is a huge step for their franchise. You can never count out San Antonio. They’re getting older. They’re still there at the end.
I think you have to look at Denver and Golden State for the style of basketball they play. Minnesota’s picked up a few free agents. I really think the West is going to be tough. I’d say the top three or four teams are going to be us, Oklahoma City, Houston and San Antonio.