While the 2019-20 NBA season didn’t go according to plan for everyone, things went especially poorly for the LA Clippers. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George were supposed to lead the team to the promised land; instead, things collapsed in the bubble, the LA Lakers won the title, and Doc Rivers was relieved of his duties. According to many reports, a lack of chemistry was the main issue that torpedoed things behind the scenes.
Now, we may know a bit more of what really happened in the LA Clippers locker room. According to a recent report from The Athletic, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George’s behind-the-scenes behavior might have been worse than we thought.
Kawhi Leonard and Paul George created, rather than solved, problems for the LA Clippers
On paper, adding more talent to your roster is never a bad thing. The 2019-20 LA Clippers season, however, was a reminder that basketball isn’t played on paper.
During the offseason, the Clippers signed Kawhi Leonard and landed Paul George, hoping those two men would give them the star power—both on and off the court—to compete with LeBron James’ Lakers and chase the championship. That plan, of course, never came to fruition.
During the regular season, injuries and load-management concerns meant Leonard and George didn’t spend much time together; the Clippers, however, still managed to claim the second seed in the Western Conference. In the playoffs, though, things got even worse.
During the postseason, the Clippers collapsed, blowing a 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets in the second round. During the post-mortem, Doc Rivers lost his job, and various reports emerged that Kawhi Leonard and Paul George hadn’t been able to step up as leaders and pull the team together in the big moments.
What did Kawhi Leonard and Paul George do behind the scenes?
For the most part, initial reports suggested that Kawhi Leonard and Paul George weren’t conventional ‘leaders’ in the locker room; the former player is known for being relatively quiet, and the latter didn’t seem to have the track record to command his teammates’ respect. We now know, however, a bit more about what could have sunk the Clippers.
In a recent story for The Athletic, Jovan Buha detailed some of the perks that the two stars received. Both men were reportedly the only ones allowed to “have their own personal security guards and trainers” and had “power over the team’s practice and travel schedule.” Other players also “believed that Leonard and George were able to pick and choose when they played” and felt that, since the stars took their time before meeting the media after the game, that others were forced into serving as the unofficial mouthpiece of the team.
Buha also reported that Leonard “was allowed to live in San Diego and commute from there, which often made him late for team flights.”
While every star player is going to receive some special treatment, Leonard and George’s perks seem to have played a role in the Clippers’ demise.
“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,” Buha wrote. “The hard-nosed, competitive culture the team had built from 2017 to ’19, predicated on their all-for-one ethos, was undone in a matter of months.”
The LA Clippers aren’t out of the woods yet
During the offseason, the LA Clippers made a major change by firing Doc Rivers and replacing him with Tyronn Lue. While that swap may help—the team is reportedly excited to play for their new coach, and he has experience dealing with star players—the franchise is still in a tough situation.
Lue now has to walk a delicate tight rope. While he has to be the bad cop and pulling back some of Leonard and George’s perks, he can’t rule with an iron fist; both forwards have player options after the 2020-21 campaign and, if they don’t like the new regime, can simply leave town. To make matters worse, the Clippers aren’t simply expected to make a run at the title. They’re built to win right now.
It goes without saying that trying to manage two star players, keep the rest of the roster bought-in, and winning a championship is no easy task. Unfortunately for Tyronn Lue, that’s what he’s tasked with doing in his first season as LA Clippers head coach.