The Los Angeles Clippers crashed out of the playoffs in the second round, falling well short of their championship goals, and extending their league-worst conference finals-less streak to a whopping 50 years. After such an embarrassing collapse, team owner Steve Ballmer believed change was necessary and parted ways with coach Doc Rivers.
On Friday, they found their replacement, hiring former assistant Ty Lue as their new head coach on a five-year deal. His championship experience and familiarity with the organization were key factors in the decision, but even more important is the respect he commands from players. He showed an impressive ability to bring the Cavaliers together during his time in charge in Cleveland and faces a similar situation in Los Angeles.
While there's no doubt the Clippers have the talent to win a title, they weren't able to put it all together, and that was at least in part because of some dysfunction in the locker room. Early in the season, there were reports of chemistry issues, and we saw those manifest at multiple points during the playoffs.
Now, we have even more details about some of the things that were going on behind the scenes. Some players, including Patrick Beverley, Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams, were upset with the preferential treatment that Kawhi Leonard received from the organization, according to Jovan Buha and Joe Vardon of The Athletic:
In Los Angeles, there is an unquestioned, A-1 superstar in Leonard. His presence both instantly made the Clippers a title contender and also eventually ruffled the feathers of some teammates because of the preferential treatment showed to him from top to bottom.
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.
Stars getting benefits other guys don't get is to be expected to some extent. When you're one of the best players in the world, and responsible for so much of the success, the organization is going to take care of you. Fair or not, that's just how it works. At a certain point, though, a line can be crossed where that arrangement starts negatively affecting other players, and that's when things can go bad.
Based on previous reports, as well as this one, that appears to be what happened with the Clippers. Quantifying exactly how much that discontent was responsible for them losing to the Nuggets is impossible, but it is clear that things were far from perfect inside the locker room.
Now, it's not as simple as coming in and managing egos -- Lue is a more innovative coach than Rivers, and well-regarded for his in-game adjustments -- but getting everyone on the same page will go a long way towards getting the Clippers over the second-round hump next season.