The Los Angeles Clippers were expected to compete for an NBA Championship in 2019-20. When the team lost to the Denver Nuggets in the second round of the Western Conference Playoffs, team owner Steve Ballmer was livid. He wanted to fire everyone he could possibly fire, and trade anyone he could possibly trade.
Ultimately, Doc Rivers ended up being the sacrificial lamb for this past year’s failings. Part of the reason why is because of the way he handled his stars and the chemistry issues that developed in the locker room as a result.
Turns out, various players on the Clippers roster came to resent star Kawhi Leonard and the way he was given the freedom to do pretty much whatever he wanted.
According to Jova Buha of The Athletic, there was some very serious and deep-seated bitterness towards Leonard.
Yikes Aaron Gordon. https://t.co/fmz8bvfSkC
— Game 7 (@game7__) October 16, 2020
“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,” he wrote.
“The team also allowed Leonard to dictate to Rivers when he could be pulled from games, among other things.”
Between the animosity that Rivers permitted to fester between Leonard and his teammates, and the lack of respect George commanded from the locker room as a whole, it is easy to see why he had to go.
Now all parties involved are someone else’s problem – Ty Lue’s.
This week, Lue agreed to five-year deal to become the new head coach of the Clippers.
Both Leonard and George seemingly endorsed the Lue hiring.
“The Clippers consulted Leonard and George on the candidates they were considering, and what qualities they sought in a head coach,” Buha and Joe Vardon wrote on Thursday.
“Neither player wanted the final say on the decision, but both offered to share their input, if the Clippers saw it necessary. Ultimately, both players told the Clippers that they trusted the front office and were on board with Lue’s hiring, believing he matches the criteria.”
It appears Lue has big plans for the Clippers going forward.
Mrs. Bradley Beal had an interesting response. https://t.co/xAt6WQpfi3
— Game 7 (@game7__) October 15, 2020
“Some changes that Lue will bring to the Clippers next season include better ball movement and a faster pace,” Buha and Vardon added.
“The Clippers will experiment more on the defensive end, mixing in more zone coverages and varying pick-and-roll schemes. The younger players on the roster — Ivica Zubac, Landry Shamet, Terance Mann and Mfiondu Kabengele — will be given larger roles and more minutes.
“The Clippers plan to stagger Leonard and George’s minutes more, as well as testing out different role players around them to see what lineup combinations work best.”
Not exactly how Dwight Howard thought this week would go. https://t.co/owe7bdMtc0
— Game 7 (@game7__) October 14, 2020
On paper, the Clippers were and continue to be arguably the most talented team in the league. The lack of cohesion they displayed last season was not the byproduct of a lack of skill, but rather poor camaraderie and zero leadership. That is fixable, but all parties involved need to be willing to take the steps necessary to do it.
Last year’s unit proved to be less than the sum of their parts. Will Lue ultimately be able to command enough respect to whip the locker room into shape and help deliver on the promise of this Clippers roster? Time will tell.