Q+A: Matt Barnes

by Leo Sepkowitz | @LeoSepkowitz

Matt Barnes has had a busy summer—and a busy 11 years, really. After being drafted by the Grizzlies in the second round of the 2002 Draft, he bounced around for about four years, and was forced into stints in the D-League and the ABA. In 2006 he found reliable minutes in Golden State, where he made a name for himself. All told, he’s played for all four California teams—the Lakers, Clippers, Warriors and Kings—as well as the Knicks, Sixers, Suns and Magic. At each stop, he’s been a lockdown defender and energy injector. This summer, he was briefly on the free-agent market before re-upping with Lob City for three years.

The former UCLA standout was kind enough to talk to SLAM about having to fight his way into the L, his days with the Lakers and Warriors as well his off-the-court adventures, which include a charity honoring his late mother and his own basketball camp.

SLAM: You run your basketball camp from the end of July to the beginning of August every year. How long have you been doing that?

Matt Barnes: This will be my sixth year. I’m with EA Sports at Red Wood City.

SLAM: How come you decided to start a basketball camp?

MB: Just to give back. It’s something I never had an opportunity to partake in in my neighborhood growing up, and when I played with the Warriors, even though it was my fourth or fifth season in the League, it was kind of like when I got my start. So I kind of feel like I owe them something. So every year we go out there and we bring in 20-25 underprivileged kids that are doing well from the Boy’s and Girl’s clubs along with the paying campers and just try to give them an experience not only in basketball but also in life. This year we have a Senator coming to talk to them, Blake Griffin’s gonna come talk to them, Colin Kaepernick…We’re getting some wide variety of information and different views and different professions.

SLAM: You also run a charity called Athletes vs Cancer. What does that mean to you, and how come you started it?

MB: I lost my mom to cancer in 2007. She was diagnosed November 1 and died November 27, so in just 26 days I lost my mom. So probably about a year after that my wife and I started Athletes vs Cancer. Usually, we do a golf tournament to raise money, but this year we switched to a new direction. This will be the first year Snoop Dogg and I are going to do a celebrity flag football game out here in LA August 16. We’re reaching out to people in the music industry and athletes that are free to come partake and come have fun and raise money for a great cause.

SLAM: How did you and Snoop get hooked up?

MB: I’ve known him forever, growing up together and then coming to UCLA—I met him at UCLA—we’ve just been in close contact ever since. So, we’re finally doing something together.

SLAM: I saw on the release it says “Snoop Dogg.” What happened to Snoop Lion?

MB: Yeah, you know I don’t know what it is—whether it’s Lion or Dogg. I know him as Dogg so that’s what I call him.

SLAM: You were picked in the Second Round and had a really tough road to the NBA. Early on, you played with the Long Beach Jam, technically an ABA team. Can you tell me what that was like?

MB: It was crazy. Traveling on buses and going to small cities and Mexico—it was really more of a life experience than a basketball experience. You know, I got a chance to play with Dennis Rodman—he was actually on our team for a few weeks before I got called up. So it was just crazy and it made me appreciate everything the NBA has provided for me.

SLAM: I read that if you didn’t make it in the NBA, you were going to try out for the NFL…

MB: I was a receiver. I was All-American in high school and I led the nation in touchdowns. So football was really my number one sport. But at UCLA they weren’t really high on me playing football so I ended up just playing basketball. But there were some teams that were willing to give me a private tryout. When I was going into my first Golden State season and I told myself that if this doesn’t work, maybe it’s time to make a switch. But luckily Don Nelson gave me a chance and I’ve kinda been rolling ever since.

SLAM: Talk about those Warriors teams—you were part of the run when they knocked off the Mavs in the first round.

MB: It was just a special team. The Clippers are the closest team to that where everybody got along on and off the court and it was just a magical season. We kinda had a rollercoaster season overall, but we had a lot of talent and after the All-Star break we got as hot as you could get and snuck into the Playoffs as the last seed. During that season we had a lot of success against Dallas, and since Nellie came from Dallas and knew Dirk Nowitzki in and out, he had a great gameplan against him. We knew going into that series we were going to win, it was just a matter of how many games.

SLAM: How much better was Dirk the second time you ran into him (2011), than he was when you guys beat him in ’07?

MB: He was a monster. I think we changed his outlook on things. We kinda showed that stronger 3-men could guard him. Because he’s such a mismatch with his size and skill set for bigger guys, going into the Playoffs, me and Stephen Jackson were just supposed to beat up on him, and I think we did that pretty effectively. I think that got him back in the lab and realizing that, “Hey I could be guarded by smaller faster guys, so I’m gonna have to change that.” So I think that’s when he got on that mid-post and just started murdering people and the second time around he was a lot better.

SLAM: How badly did you want to come back to the Clippers this offseason?

MB: They were obviously my number one choice. Chris Paul and I talked during the season and we were kind of going to be a packaged deal. Playing with him was unlike playing with anybody I’ve ever played with. I felt comfortable and strong in saying that I think we could win a Championship together, and we’re both glad that we got a chance to come back to the Clippers.

SLAM: How closely do you follow everything else going on around the League during the offseason? Obviously the Clippers had a lot happening.

MB: When it’s with the team that you’re interested in—because obviously I hadn’t signed back yet but L.A. was my first choice—you always kinda keep your ear to the ground as far as what your team is supposed to be doing. It was just interesting. One thing I’ve learned going into my 11th year, is you gotta take the rumors with a grain of salt, because there’s so many different rumors and so many different possibilities in the offseason, and until it actually happens, you just have to go with the flow.

SLAM: One of the big moves was Dwight Howard going to Houston. You played with him in Orlando. Were you surprised he left? What’d you think of that move?

MB: I wasn’t surprised at all. The Lakers in the past have been the team of the League—either winning Championships or whatever they may be doing, they’ve just kinda been the face of the League along with Kobe. And it’s just different. I have to say, after Phil left, having Phil for a year, it’s kind of been a downward spiral since then. They’ve got good guys in and out of there but they haven’t been able to put it together, whether it’s been personnel or coaching.

SLAM: You and Kobe had on-the-court beef when you were with the Magic and he was with the Lakers. Was it awkward at all when you went to L.A.?

MB: No, not at all. He was the one who recruited me to the team. Once he found out I was a free agent, he just asked me, “What’s your plan?” And I said, You know we’re talking to a few teams. He was like, “Would you ever consider being a Laker?” And you know growing up, the Lakers were my team so I was like, Absolutely. So at that point I left a significant amount of money on the table from smaller teams and went to the Lakers in hopes of winning a title and getting back on the West Coast.

SLAM: What were those practices like with you, Ron Artest, Kobe—all very competitive guys?

MB: They were good. They were great. We got it in, we played hard.

SLAM: Can you talk about the Clippers-Lakers rivalry that’s going on? I guess you’ve been on the right side of it so far.

MB: Honestly, to be a fan of the game and a part of the game, I can’t really call it a rivalry yet because it’s been so one-sided. I definitely feel now we’re obviously the best team in town. So I think we’re going to need to do a lot more work for this to become a rivalry, but it’s just our in-house enemies… We beat them pretty handily last year, so we wanna do the same thing this year.

SLAM: Does this Clippers team have what it takes to get over the hump and get a title?

MB: Definitely. It’s Championship or bust. We feel we have the talent level from a player standpoint, and now we have the coach to match that. So anything less than a Championship is going to be a pointless season. We won the division last year—56 wins, 17 in a row—and then won the first two and then lost four straight, so basically to be swept out of the Playoffs…Last year really didn’t mean anything to us. We accomplished a lot of franchise goals but we didn’t accomplish our team goal, which was to win. So last year is a driving force for this summer for people to get better.

SLAM: You’re best known for your work as a defender. Who’s the toughest guy in the League to guard?

MB: Uhh…I’d have to say, taking away injuries obviously, Kobe. His mental approach—he’s the one guy who makes you pay for mistakes. A lot of other guys are obviously talented, but he breaks it down to a science where if you do something wrong, he’s going to attack that deficiency. So I’d say Kobe is number one. Melo is a monster—he’s so strong. LeBron…what bad thing can you say about him? And then Kevin Durant. Those four guys are probably the best four scorers in the world. And those are the guys I’m going in against every night. But I love the challenge, I love the competition. Good offense always beats good defense, but my thing is you always wanna make them work. Keep them off the foul line, and if they’re going to score 30 points, make them take 25 or 30 shots… And the other thing about those guys is you gotta make them work on the defensive end.

SLAM: What about an up-and-coming scorer who’s come in the League the last couple years who people wouldn’t necessarily put up there with the elite guys but is very tough to guard?

MB: I really like Damian Lillard. He’s someone I worked out with in the summer. I just like his motor. He’s a scorer. Kyrie Irving—he’s a scorer. Guys that just put the ball in the basket, even though they’re point guards and they could do a little bit of both. Paul George just showed the world what he’s capable of. You still see him making mistakes and taking bad shots, but at the same time you look at the end of the game and he’s very close to a triple-double. So I think once he figures the game out, he’s gonna be a monster.

SLAM: Who’s a better dunker between Dwight Howard in his prime with the Magic or Blake Griffin today?

MB: I would have to say Blake…Dwight is a good dunker but he’s in the paint and he’s dunking. Blake’s taking off from outside the paint, catching lobs. Blake is probably the most exciting dunker in the League.