LeBron going back to Cavs:

Matt Barnes Is the Player You Love to Hate

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | Have you ever seen someone on television or met someone at work, school or other social setting whom you wanted to just punch? You can't put your finger on it, but there was something about his look or demeanor eliciting that impulse.

Apparently, it's not just a guy thing. A female cohort once expressed that she wanted to deliver a Juan Manuel Marquez right-hand counter to Dianna Agron of "Glee" fame, but she offered no plausible reason for what made her react in such a brutal fashion.

That being said, a few peers echoed the same sentiment regarding Los Angeles Clippers forward Matt Barnes. The guy has sort of a dark, brooding guise that would make him ideal for one of those many vampire shows that Hollywood seems to be churning out. That look is accented by tattoos that sheath his arms and torso, making him comparable to a walking Sistine Chapel.

In his previous nine seasons in the NBA, Barnes has taken on the antagonistic role of the player you love to hate. He's the guy you may not necessarily like but don't mind having on your team. His contributions to the Clippers' second unit are some of the key reasons why the team is currently third in the Western Conference.

One of the all-time best at playing that antagonist role was Dennis Rodman--a guy who could stymie you physically with unrelenting defensive pressure and take you out of the game mentally by testing your patience. Championship teams always have someone who assumes that antagonist-enforcer character. In recent years, it has been players like Bruce Bowen, Kendrick Perkins, Metta World Peace, Tyson Chandler and Udonis Haslem--guys whose thrills were getting in people's grills.

Barnes can certainly thrive in that capacity. He has that ability to ensnare his aggressive energy, compartmentalize it and unleash it on the basketball court. Consequently, his intensity injects natural energy and vivacity into his teammates.

"His energy is contagious and everybody knows how big his heart is and how much he wants to help everybody," said Clippers point guard Chris Paul.

That energy can also get the best of him. Barnes currently has 10 technical fouls, tying teammate Blake Griffin for most techs received in the NBA. That stat partly speaks to Barnes' role as the team's enforcer. He'll contest a call on another player's behalf or back a teammate if a fracas ensues. Last season for the Clippers, it was Reggie Evans and prior to that, Baron Davis played somewhat of an enforcer role before he was traded.

With the Clippers, Barnes has come full circle by returning to the team where he logged his first NBA minutes in 2004. Prior to that, he was drafted by Memphis in 2002 but got traded to Cleveland, where he was eventually waived. Since then, he's made stops in the NBA Development League, Seattle, Sacramento, New York, Philadelphia, Golden State, Phoenix, Orlando, and the Los Angeles Lakers.

After an injury-riddled 2010-11 season with the Lakers under former coach Phil Jackson and a shortened 2011-12 season that saw his playing time flux under Mike Brown, his career was in limbo after the Lakers passed on offering him another contract. Furthermore, he was arrested in Manhattan Beach in July 2012 for an outstanding misdemeanor traffic warrant and suspicion of threatening a public official.

Despite the off-court baggage, the Clippers gave Barnes a shot and signed the free agent to a one-year, $1.2 million deal just two weeks before the start of training camp in late September. His pesky perimeter defense, hustle on the boards and streaky 3-point shooting are paying dividends. He's currently averaging 10.4 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game off the bench--numbers that are actually better than those of starting forward Caron Butler, who is in the second year of a three-year, $24 million deal.

"I've been working hard these past few summers," Barnes told the LA Times. "Last year, playing with the Lakers, I was told when I could shoot. If I made mistakes, I'd come out of the game.

"This year (Coach) Vinny (Del Negro) has installed a lot of trust in me. He lets me go out there and play my game. If I mess up, he still sticks with me and that goes a long way with any player."

Nonetheless, Barnes still carries the stigma of being a player with an incendiary and rabble rousing attitude. His off-court run-ins with the law certainly don't help his cause.

Barnes' intensity and physicality will be an asset when the playoffs arrive, as long as he's able to keep his emotions in check. If not, he could be a detriment to the Clippers, especially if a technical foul or ejection proves costly during a closely contested game. He's already been ejected twice this season and served two one-game suspensions--the first involved a "no contest" plea for his July arrest, and the second was for a flagrant foul 2 shove to Minnesota Timberwolves center Greg Stiesma.

After covering the Lakers for a brief stint in the 2010-11 season, Barnes actually didn't seem like a bad guy. He was always cordial with the media and answered questions unabashedly.

So is it fair to label Barnes as a loose cannon? Maybe, but the Clippers don't seem to mind as long as he's pointed in the other team's direction.

Ben Hernandez Jr. is a writer/contributor at Sports Out West.

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