Barnes happy to be on court, not in court

PLAYA VISTA, CA — Los Angeles Clippers’ reserve forward Matt Barnes had an off-season he’ll never forget.

Not because he was able to spend June, July and August celebrating an NBA title; his former team, the LA Lakers lost in the second round of the playoffs. Not because he agreed to a ginormous free agent deal with the Clips; he signed for the veteran’s minimum of about 1.2 million dollars for one year. No, Matt Barnes’ summer was unforgettable because he spent most of it fighting for a job—and his freedom.

After the Lakers declined a chance to re-sign him following two seasons with the team, the NBA veteran was worried that he might be a man without a basketball home.

“I went through some legal stuff this summer, that just got handled the other day,” Barnes said in a relieved voice on Clippers’ media day. “It was a mess and a joke and none of it was true. Everything (said about) me was bad; that I was drunk, and this and that.  Perception is everything and so I just had to sit back and not say anything about it.

“Luckily, the Clippers took a chance and I’m back with them.”

The nine-year vet of eight different teams—this is his second tour with the Clippers—was originally arrested in Manhattan Beach, CA for driving with a suspended license. He claims he was arrested by the same officer who arrested him each time. When multiple messages were left with the Manhattan Beach P D asking for comment on the Barnes case, none of the calls were returned.

“They wouldn’t talk about it because he had nothing to say,” said Barnes. “The whole truth was that I was harassed by this cop for a good three months. He (impounded) my car during the playoffs and made me walk home. Once he arrested me when I was walking down the street. I went through some stuff, but I’m here today.”

Barnes said that he was in the wrong while driving with a suspended license, but then his NBA lifestyle came into play, he feels.

“My car (windows) are tinted,” admitted Barnes, “but they were tinted to protect myself and my family. Being a professional athlete in this area, I really don’t want to let everyone see me inside my car, my kids inside the car or my wife inside the car. So, we…took measures to stop that.”

Despite the multiple arrests. the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office opted to file misdemeanor charges against Barnes. The MBPD had originally asked for felony charges to be filed, claiming Barnes refused to cooperate and threatened the arresting officer. The DA charged him with resisting arrest and driving without a license; Barnes was sentenced to two years probation, 30 hours of community and thirteen sessions with a therapist.

“It all got handled the other day, so let’s move on and talk basketball,” Barnes requested. And when talk turns to the Clippers of 2012-13 and their potential, there’s a lot of positive things to talk about.

Barnes will come off the bench as part of a second unit that includes Grant Hill, Jamal Crawford, Ronny Turiaf and Eric Bledsoe to give the Clippers one of the deepest teams in the league. Barnes is a tenacious defensive player, and that should earn him playing time on a team with it’s sights set an an NBA title.

“Obviously Matt is an excellent defensive player and very tough,” said coach Vinny Del Negro. “We feel he’s a great fit for our team and he just adds another component to our depth.”

Barnes said signing with the Clippers is like coming home.

“It’s like my career has come full circle now,” he said. “I signed my first ten day (contract) with this team, and it’s a much different organization than it was when I was first here. We’re a very deep team, a very talented team, and it’s going to be fun to put this all together.

“This is going to be fun for Vinny, because we’re so deep. We’ve got a lot of guys who do a little bit of everything, and he can just plug us in at different positions, wherever we’re needed.”

And he’s especially anxious to go against his former Laker teammates—especially a certain future Hall of Famer.

“I’m looking forward to guarding Kobe (Bryant) for real again,” Barnes said enthusiastically. “Instead of in practice, in a real game. I’m a competitor, so I can’t wait.

“I wish those guys the best, but I’m really happy to be here.”

Especially when he considers the possible alternative he was facing just a week ago.