The issues that plagued the Los Angeles Clippers a season ago are well documented, and have been voiced by some of the players themselves as well as through explosive articles outlining the team's chemistry and personality problems. After the Clippers tumbled out of the NBA bubble in the second round of the postseason, which resulted in blowing a 3-1 series lead against the Denver Nuggets, L.A. made the decision to part ways with head coach Doc Rivers and elevate assistant coach Ty Lue in Rivers' place.
The offseason was spent retooling the roster, which included adding veteran big man Serge Ibaka to replace reigning Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell (who bolted for the rival Lakers), trading for Luke Kennard and signing Nicolas Batum for added shooting depth. The Clippers are unquestionably one of the top teams in the West, as Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are still in tow, but this team will need to straighten out the problems that surfaced a season ago.
It was reported in October that role players within the organization voiced their displeasure with the preferential treatment that Leonard received throughout last season, which included allowing him to be late to team flights for away games and letting him dictate when he would play.
Now, though, more has come out regarding the special treatment that Leonard and George received that apparently rubbed teammates the wrong way. From Jovan Buha of The Athletic:
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.
• Leonard was allowed to live in San Diego and commute from there, which often made him late for team flights.
• Leonard and George typically didn't speak to the media until at least 45 minutes after games concluded, under the guise of postgame treatment or workouts. This usually resulted in their teammates speaking with the media first, and for longer, essentially becoming the public voices of the team.
• 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.
Leonard and George wouldn't be the first players in the league to receive special treatment; in a star-driven league that's just the way it goes. Yet allowing the stars of the team to run the show can cause issues. Especially with the perceived culture the Clippers had built the two years prior to Leonard and George joining team. Before L.A. was a championship contender, the Clippers were a scrappy underdog team with Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams and Harrell bringing a rough-and-tough mentality to the franchise. When Leonard and George arrived, the hierarchy and culture changed.
That's not uncommon for teams entering new eras, but it was apparent throughout the season that not all the Clippers players were on the same page, especially when they started to lose games.
It wasn't just those two, though. From the details that have emerged, it sounds like there were simply too many cooks in the kitchen, meaning too many players wanted to be the alpha male. When the Clippers traded for Marcus Morris at the trade deadline last February, upon his arrival he reportedly ruffled some feathers as he tried to assert his dominance, which didn't sit well with some. Morris and Ivica Zubac reportedly got into heated discussions several times, after Morris tried to tell Zubac what to do too many times.
With the majority of the same roster returning, Lue will be asked to build trust and foster a good team culture within this locker room in order to win a championship before Leonard and George can test free agency if they decide to opt out of their player options in 2021. It's entirely doable, and Lue has experience in that department being the coach who united the Cleveland Cavaliers' locker room on the way to their historic 2016 championship.
The question, though, will be if this Clippers squad will buy into his messaging and pull it together long enough to compete for a title. The talent is there, but as the Clippers proved last season, that isn't enough to win a championship.