This isn’t a knock on the Clippers’ starting wings.
Now, whenever an article starts with “This isn’t a knock on the Clippers’ starting wings”, it probably means that the piece will have a couple of knocks on – or at least veiled criticisms about – the Clippers’ starting wings. But seriously, this isn’t about the negatives that the Clippers’ perimeter players provided this past season. It’s about Matt Barnes doing his best Rumpelstiltskin impression and turning Clipper straw into gold. And if there’s one thing that the Brothers Grimm taught us, it’s that you re-sign Rumpelstiltskin when he’s on a veteran’s minimum contract.
Ok, so maybe the Brothers Grimm never got that specific with their salary cap terminology. Actually, if they had anything to do with the new CBA, we’d probably see a few more clauses that encourage Stu Jackson to discipline a player by cutting off his index finger. You’ve got to love those child-appropriate, German fairy tales.
In some ways, one could make the argument that Barnes was the Clippers’ third-most-important player this year (behind Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, of course). DeAndre Jordan rarely ever played fourth quarters and wasn’t much of a fixture in the offense after the first month of the season, Jamal Crawford only affects one side of the floor (in a good way, at least), and Eric Bledsoe didn’t see enough playing time to hold that title. Meanwhile, Caron Butler and Willie Green better fit the description of “warm bodies, who are solid spot-up shooters” and Lamar Odom’s name carries more weight than his game.
That leaves Barnes, the team’s most consistent perimeter defender, someone who shot well all season, who runs the floor in transition, and whose energy is relatively unquestionable – especially from Joey Crawford’s perspective. And the Clippers have to do everything they can to ensure that Barnes is wearing a Clippers’ uniform again next season.
Maybe 10 years down the line, Greg Sestero will write his Clippers version of The Disaster Artist and we’ll hear a first-hand version the Clips airing out their dirty laundry. Somewhere in there will probably be a short vignette about how Barnes, a former Laker, ended up returning to Los Angeles with the team across the hall.
During an offseason game of pickup, Chris Paul asked Barnes what team he was playing with in the upcoming season. Barnes told him he was unsigned.
“Matt Barnes? Unsigned in September? This sort of thing does not happen on my watch,” is what Paul said, I assume.
Even if he didn’t say those words in that order, Paul’s actions were consistent with that false quote’s sentiment. The point guard went upstairs to the Clippers’ front office and told his bosses that Barnes was still unsigned. On the spot, he convinced them Barnes would be a good fit with the Clips. And the rest is history.
In reality, Barnes and Paul are a match made in basketball heaven. Who better to play with the best passer in the league than one of the best off-ball cutters in the NBA? And who better to play with one of the best off-ball cutters in the NBA than the best passer in the league? And most importantly, who better to follow Chris Paul’s conducting than a man that could easily pass for a trumpeter from a 1948 swing band? That was a happy marriage all year. Please, don’t make them get divorced.
The issue with re-signing Barnes comes down to – what else? – money. For some odd reason, he wasn’t a commodity last summer. Sometimes, the NBA free agency market doesn’t make much sense. Guys fall through the cracks. That’s really the only explanation for how someone like Barnes, who was one of the five best bench players in the NBA this season, could end up on a veteran’s minimum deal as the final player signed on his team’s roster. But this year, even after arguably the best year of his career, Barnes couldn’t get many more dollars if he wanted to stay in L.A.
Let’s get technical for a second. According to basketball-reference.com, Barnes made $1.229 million playing with the Clippers this past season. The Clips can pay him up to 120 percent of his current contract, but no more. So that means Barnes can take a deserved raise, but he’d still be notably underpaid. That leaves the Clippers with the ability to take only two actions: Make an offer of about $1.475 million and then hope that for the umpteenth time in his career, Matt Barnes will take less money than he warrants for the opportunity to play for a contender.
Maybe Barnes does just that. He’s from California, he went to UCLA, and he has spent three straight years playing in Los Angeles. He might even have a chance to start next year, considering that Caron Butler is entering the final year of his now-tradable, expiring $8 million contract (and considering that Barnes is a better player than Butler now, anyway). The Clippers are now involved in a recruiting process for Barnes and a team that struggled with its wings all season has to make sure it doesn’t lose its most productive all-round perimeter player.