Chris Paul recruited Matt Barnes. Blake Griffin forgave him.
And with that confluence of events, the former Lakers small forward officially became a Clipper on Friday, signing a one-year contract for the veteran’s minimum of about $1.2 million.
Barnes was already in enemy territory a few weeks ago when he worked out with Paul at the Clippers’ training facility.
“Chris Paul was talking about how tough we were going to be next year, assuming I was a Laker,” Barnes said in a telephone interview. “I told him I was a free agent and he said, ‘No, you’re about to be a Clipper.’ ”
Barnes said the All-Star point guard pitched signing Barnes to Clippers management, though there was one potential hang-up: Barnes had shoved Griffin to the floor during a preseason game last December, earning a flagrant foul.
So before agreeing to acquire the nine-year veteran, Barnes said, the Clippers checked with Griffin to receive his blessing. Barnes said he also spoke with Griffin on Thursday.
“I just kind of explained to him that it was no disrespect to him or his game,” Barnes said. “I think he’s one of the best players in the league and arguably the most athletic player. I play basketball hard-nosed and if you’re not on my team, during that 48 minutes we’re enemies. He appreciated it and understood where I was coming from.”
Barnes, 32, acknowledged that his first choice would have been to re-sign with the Lakers but realized that was not a realistic possibility after his production plummeted in the playoffs and he was arrested in July for allegedly threatening a police officer. Barnes said he couldn’t address his legal situation.
“It was a waterfall of bad things happening in the summer,” Barnes said, “so I was happy to have an opportunity to play with another team.”
The 6-foot-7 Barnes called the Clippers “probably the deepest team in the NBA,” and they are particularly stocked at his position with Caron Butler, Grant Hill and Travis Leslie. But Barnes said Coach Vinny Del Negro told him he would have an opportunity to compete for playing time.
Lakers fans have already labeled Barnes as a traitor on electronic media.
“I’ve been getting a lot of hate tweets, crossing over and trading” teams, Barnes said. “But people have to understand this is a business and teams and players have to do what they have to do. I wish the Lakers nothing but luck. I still have friends over there. When we’re on the court, they’re the enemy now.”