Paul George shared his thoughts on why the Clippers blew a 3-1 lead to the Nuggets: "During that whole process, we never worked on adjustments. We never worked on what to do differently.” (via All the Smoke, @SHOsports )
As the Clippers begin the second year of the Leonard-George partnership, the burden is on Lue, the front office and ownership to figure out how to maximize the pairing. After last season’s embarrassing ending, that task includes continuing to evaluate and determine which players fit around Leonard and George, both on and off the court. The pressure is on for LA to learn from last season’s cultural mistakes. The onus is also on Leonard and George to take greater accountability and establish a healthier locker room dynamic this season, which league sources say the duo is aware of. The 2021 free-agency period is looming.
In Los Angeles, Lue will look to push Leonard and George to forgo certain requests or standards to set a better example for their teammates, league sources said. Additionally, he’ll establish a clearer internal hierarchy with the remaining role players, ensuring that players are on the same page and there is no confusion regarding roles and responsibilities. This is Leonard’s team, and Lue is going to let the locker room know that.
Before every Clippers game last season, the team’s training staff would honor Kawhi Leonard’s request and create a private space for his pregame routine. The staffers would enter and take over that space for roughly 20 to 45 minutes, according to multiple team and league sources. On the road, there were occasions when the space they occupied was the female staffers’ locker room. That also happened sometimes before a doubleheader at Staples Center when the changing of the court limited the availability of the Los Angeles Kings’ locker room, where Leonard normally warmed up privately.
Various Clippers players, coaches and staffers were aware of the arrangement and some felt uneasy about it. While there appeared to be no sexist intent, the visual of women staffers being unable to use their locker room to use the bathroom, to change clothes or to access their personal belongings while Leonard stretched did not go unnoticed. At least one player mentioned it to a confidant and at least one staffer complained about it to coworkers. It was an awkward arrangement, but drawing too much attention to it risked being seen as going against Leonard, the team’s unquestioned star, in the eyes of the organization. “What were they going to do about it?” one league source said. “It’s Kawhi.”
On and off the court, the players never established the requisite chemistry, continuity or trust to win a championship in their first year together. The organization estimated it could layer superstars on top of the core group of returning role players to win a title, but it awfully misjudged the internal blowback over everything from playing time to preferential treatment to personality differences. “How do you ever build a strong team with that shit going on?” one team source said. “I thought from the beginning, ‘We’re doomed. Kawhi wants too much special treatment.’”
But according to multiple league sources, the perks the Clippers gave Leonard and George began to compromise the standard of the culture they had built over the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons — the very culture that the Clippers used, in part, to attract Leonard and George to Los Angeles. Some of those perks included: • Leonard and George were the only players to have their own personal security guards and trainers. • Leonard and George had power over the team’s practice and travel schedule, leading teammates to believe Leonard canceled multiple practices.
Teammates also believed that Leonard and George were able to pick and choose when they played. Not only did they sit out games entirely, but also at times they accepted or declined playing time in the moment. While star treatment can work in a locker room, and some of these practices aren’t necessarily unique to the Clippers, it resulted in a lack of buy-in from this particular group, league sources said.
Teammates had a level of acceptance of Leonard’s preferential treatment, as his status as a two-time champion and two-time Finals MVP — the then-reigning Finals MVP, at that — was indisputable. But George’s treatment was more of an issue within the locker room, league sources said. George, while a perennial All-Star and All-NBA candidate, didn’t carry the same cachet with his teammates. There was a sentiment among certain teammates of, “What have you accomplished in the playoffs?” multiple league sources said.
Players like Beverley, Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams — Clippers bedrocks before the arrival of Leonard and George — bristled when Leonard was permitted to take games off to manage his body and to live in San Diego, which often led to him being late for team flights, league sources said. The team also allowed Leonard to dictate to Rivers when he could be pulled from games, among other things. Lue was on Rivers’ bench for all of this, but the Clippers were Rivers’ show.
A common criticism from some within the team — inside and outside the locker room — was that Harrell’s energy and effort was only consistent on the offensive end of the floor, multiple league sources said. Meanwhile, Rivers maintained, publicly to the media and privately to his staff and the organization, that Harrell was the better player, in spite of all of the evidence to the contrary.
The organization ultimately determined that the locker room, as currently constructed, lacked the requisite leadership and mettle to be true a championship team. Players weren’t necessarily put in the best position to unlock a better version of themselves, either, with the team not always making appropriate or timely adjustments, league sources said.
Ryen Russillo: This surprised Doc. From what I’m told he thought he was ok. But this locker room was an even bigger mess than I think we realized. Kawhi has never had to be a vocal leader and PG doesn’t have the respect of his teammates.
First Things First: "I've been told some of the Clippers role players actually think they're as good as Paul George. They're having problems w/ the special treatment he's gotten from Doc Rivers. They can handle Kawhi getting special treatment bc for the most part he delivered." — @Chris_Broussard
In the postgame locker room Tuesday night, George was preaching to teammates to remain committed, for all the players to return to the team this offseason and stay ready to make another run. It was met by some eye rolls and bewilderment, sources said, because George did not back up his words with action in the series and the team has multiple free agents with decisions to make. George scored 10 points on 4 of 16 shooting and 2 of 11 from 3-point range in the Game 7 defeat. “We can only get better the longer we stay together and the more we’re around each other,” George said after the game. “I think that’s really the tale of the tape of this season. We just didn’t have enough time together.”
Harrell approached his teammate about the risky pass, with George not taking responsibility and arguing the pass could have been caught had Harrell made the right play, sources said. This set off the NBA Sixth Man of the Year. Harrell responded with something along the lines of, “You’re always right. Nobody can tell you nothing,” and expletives were uttered from both players, sources said. George eventually toned down his rhetoric, but a heated Harrell wasn’t having it. Teammates began clapping on the sideline, in part to disguise what was going on and in an attempt to defuse the situation. The incident deescalated shortly after as coach Doc Rivers took his seat to go over the game plan.
Internally, the Clips need to worry less about people who write about their iffy chemistry and more about fixing their iffy chemistry. Solving this problem will take some sleuthing in end-of-season meetings. Was it one person? A combination? Were there bad apples or was there just a misunderstanding? Do they need another locker room leader? We don’t really know the answers, but these are huge questions that will inevitably dictate some of the Clippers’ offseason approach.
Pushed by the Nuggets again in a Western Conference semifinal, the Clippers saw their commanding 3-1 series lead disappear in a run of missed shots, missed stops and missed opportunities that revealed that their inconsistency was still present months later. They flexed their championship potential while building leads of 16, 19 and 12 points against the Nuggets in the series' final three games. They also looked helpless when Denver began its rallies. “They ran into a real team that played together, not in spite of each other,” said one league executive.
The rapport simply wasn’t there for the Clippers, and it certainly wasn’t there in Game 2 when Montrezl Harrell and George got into a heated verbal exchange during a timeout, league sources told Yahoo Sports. Early in the second quarter, a struggling George had committed two careless turnovers in less than a minute. The second mishap was a half-court pass to Harrell, who was near the paint but surrounded by Murray and Michael Porter Jr. Murray picked off the pass. Seconds later, the Clippers called a timeout.
Harrell approached his teammate about the risky pass, with George not taking responsibility and arguing the pass could have been caught had Harrell made the right play, sources said. This set off the NBA Sixth Man of the Year.
Harrell responded with something along the lines of, “You’re always right. Nobody can tell you nothing,” and expletives were uttered from both players, sources said. George eventually toned down his rhetoric, but a heated Harrell wasn’t having it. Teammates began clapping on the sideline, in part to disguise what was going on and in an attempt to defuse the situation. The incident deescalated shortly after as coach Doc Rivers took his seat to go over the game plan.
Andrew Greif: Doc, asked about preferential treatment for Kawhi: "Nothing more than anyone else gets. They all get special treatment. ... I would say all 15 of my players get preferential treatment at some point and they’re going to continue to get that."
Andrew Greif: Doc, asked abt Athletic report, said in part, "Like I’ve always said everyone’s not treated the same, they shouldn’t be. This team as far as chemistry has been phenomenal. This has been a joyful team. Other than injury this has been a joy to coach so far."
Montrezl Harrell had spoken his truth, telling the world on Jan. 4, after a 26-point home loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, about the frustrations that had surfaced inside the Clippers’ complicated locker room. Now it was Doc Rivers’ turn. The 58-year-old, who is one of just six current NBA head coaches to have won a title, has been known to take the head-on approach to discussing disagreements with his players, and so it was that he decided to address Harrell’s unfiltered media session from the afternoon before. With his Clippers set to host the New York Knicks that afternoon in the second of a home back-to-back set, sources say Rivers lit into his team in the pregame meeting and directed his ire at Harrell multiple times in reference to the comments he had made.
The gist of the expletive-laden message had been sent loud and clear: Keep your frustrations internal. Don’t vent to the media and create distractions for this locker room. But the damage was done. Harrell, the 25-year-old center whose passion had shone through in those candid three minutes with reporters, had pulled back the Clippers’ curtain just enough to make us wonder: After executing one of the most stunning moves of the summer, adding superstars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to a team that was among the league’s most cohesive and gritty before they arrived, why did these Clippers — even on those winning nights — seem somewhat off?
As more than a dozen sources shared in The Athletic’s reporting on the matter, the transition from the team’s overachieving past to the promising present has not been seamless. From the frustrations relating to Leonard’s injury management and his quiet ways, to the different views regarding regular-season competition, to the reality that their chosen style of play isn’t always conducive to collective joy, there are issues tugging at this talented team that will need to be resolved by the time the playoffs come around. Harrell, sources say, was hardly alone when it came to some of the sentiments he had shared.
The adjustment period with Leonard and George was inevitable, especially in a confident Clippers locker room where they took so much understandable pride in what they accomplished last season. Without an All-Star, the Clippers finished 48-34 and — with Beverley, Lou Williams, Harrell and all the rest leading the way — even took two games from the vaunted Golden State Warriors in the first round of the 2019 playoffs. At the time, it was a perfect recruiting pitch for players of Leonard’s and George’s caliber. Fast forward to this season, and the introduction of the injury management lifestyle has led to a shift in ethos and, at times, made for an awkward adjustment. What’s more, this was hardly the first time that the combination of Leonard’s unique handling of his health and his sometimes-distant personality has led to questions about team chemistry.
According to Clippers sources, that’s precisely why they refer to Leonard’s situation more accurately as ‘injury management.’ As The Athletic reported in early November, the fact that Leonard was not considered a “fully healthy player” meant he would sit out as often as the doctors advised this season. Sources say the medical advice, at present, still mandates that he not play in back-to-back games — hence the fact that he sat out against the Hawks despite the fact that the team was already without two other key players.
Even Leonard’s biggest supporters will admit that he is a lead-by-example type, and the fact that George tends to be the same means there is occasional uncertainty about whose voice should rise above the rest. “I think it boils down to Kawhi not talking, and so who is their true leader?” one source with knowledge of the Clippers’ dynamics said. “How do you get around that?”
Mirjam Swanson: JaMychal Green on righting the ship: "We had a team meeting and talked to each other. We really been embarrassed losing like we did yesterday. We had to pull together defensively. We're getting on the same page."
Andrew Greif: Doc Rivers' reaction to Montrezl Harrell's comment yesterday that the Clippers are not a great team right now: "Do we believe we can beat anybody? We do. But that's not good enough. I need our guys to understand that. We have work to do." His full answer below: pic.twitter.com/bUEYsl1aqx
Jovan Buha: Marcin Gortat retweeted Clipper Darrell’s tweet about it being heartbreaking to bench him after eight games and break his consecutive games started streak 👀 pic.twitter.com/Lp6oBxy2xi
Austin Rivers: Apologize to the fans for using that language....I was simply trying to stick up for my teammate being heckled at. Ended up barking at the wrong fan. Apologies again! All love 🙏🏼
Frustrating times for the Clippers. Even a three-game win streak didn’t alleviate the pain of the nine-game losing streak that preceded it, because the “turnaround” came against three bad teams, and Blake Griffin got hurt during it. With L.A. on its way to a 126-107 home loss to the Jazz last night, Austin Rivers confronted a courtside fan. The Clippers guard clearly told the fan to “shut the f— up.”
The Clippers haven’t won a game in three weeks. That’s why talk has been rampant around the NBA that Coach Doc Rivers could be out the door soon. It’s unlikely Rivers would want to sign up for a long rebuilding project, and if things continue to go sideways in Los Angeles, selling off pieces seems like the only logical step for the Clippers.
“I’m not worried about us when we play in the playoffs being ready and playing hard,” Rivers said. “But I still am concerned about consistency. Can you fix it in (seven) games? I don’t know. We’ll see.”
Rivers’ team blew an 18-point lead in the final five minutes to lose to the Sacramento Kings on Sunday. Chris Paul called it the worst regular-season loss of his career. Rivers said it was “up there” for him.
Two days after the Clippers suffered the season’s most damning loss, DeAndre Jordan stared down at assembled cameras and microphones. Amid a wild thicket of bed-head dreads, a patch of locks sprouted from his forehead, pointing upward like a cluster of daffodils. “It’s a struggle right now,” Jordan said Tuesday morning. “My hair is a representation of the struggle we’ve had.”
Bill Oram: DeAndre Jordan: "It's a struggle right now. My hair is a representation of the struggle we've had." pic.twitter.com/abf61J9ued
There’s not been some massive overhaul in how the players on the team view each other. The clashes still exist – and will continue to exist, Griffin said. “I don’t think people realize how much teammates are going to have to (slams fists into one another) sometime. You know?” he said. “Every team does that. Listen to Mo (Speights) talk about Golden State. Listen to Paul (Pierce) talk about Boston. Every team does that. And when you win, it doesn’t matter. “... Anytime you’re trying to achieve something this big, it’s going to happen.” Griffin said he never subscribed into those disagreements defining the Clippers’ failures. “People try to make it a thing,” he said. “I’ve never really bought that.”
On one of the next possessions, the two players were in a similar situation. This time, they executed beautifully, with Redick perfectly reading the Griffin pass and scoring. Neither player was right; neither was wrong. “That was it,” Griffin told the Southern California News Group Wednesday night. “ ... It’s about getting it right – not being right – with this team. Maybe, in years past, it was more about being right.”
In a radio interview with Colin Cowherd on Thursday, Davis, who hasn't played in an NBA game in over a year after undergoing ankle surgery in September, was critical of his ex-teammate, particularly for dribbling the ball too much. "He has his way about himself," Davis said when asked if Paul was a problem in the locker room. "It's, 'I'm Chris Paul, give me the ball, I'm gonna dribble, dribble, dribble, dribble, dribble, dribble, dribble, dribble, might pass if it looks good, or I'll shoot.'"
August 2, 2021 | 6:58 pm EDT Update
Paul Garcia: The Spurs signing McDermott is probably a sign Rudy Gay might not return to San Antonio. McDermott can start or come off the bench in Gay’s role. But, this could be another player in the way of Luka Samanic earning rotation minutes.
Paul granted Yahoo Sports an exclusive interview on the heels of agreeing to his new deal. “One thing I’ll never do is take this game for granted,” Paul told Yahoo Sports. “I love to play. It’s a real privilege. I’ve said this time and time again, I don’t care what type of business endeavors I’ll have set up when I’m done playing, it’s going to be so hard and tough whenever I finish playing. Because I love the game, I love the grind, I love the workouts, all of it. This game means a lot to me, and I’m so thankful to be in this position.”
His name was linked to the New York Knicks and the Los Angeles Lakers, but Paul realized he was in the midst of something special and elected to run it back. “After this season in Phoenix and experiencing how amazing the fans were, my chemistry with my teammates, with [Devin Booker] Book, with Monty [Williams], I knew Phoenix was where I wanted to be,” Paul told Yahoo Sports. “It’s time to get back to work.”
“I think the biggest thing for me and my advice is you can’t get bored with the process,” Paul told Yahoo Sports. “It’s crazy to think about all of this. My brother CJ [Paul], my agents, they see everything that goes into my training, the masseuses, the body work. I’m always working out. Getting up at three in the morning, five in the morning to go work out has paid off.”
August 2, 2021 | 6:52 pm EDT Update
Chris Haynes: BREAKING NEWS: Free agent star Chris Paul reaches agreement with Phoenix Suns on four-year, up to $120 million contract that will expire when he’s 40, league sources tell @YahooSports.