Don't look now, but the Los Angeles Clippers media day was all about the positive vibes.
Sure, Kawhi Leonard might miss most of the 2021-22 season after partially tearing his ACL during the postseason. And no, the Leonard and Paul George pairing hasn't led to a championship yet for the Clippers.
Ben Golliver @BenGolliver
Clippers coach Tyronn Lue on Kawhi Leonard (knee): “We don’t want to force him or put any pressure on him. We want to make sure he’s rehabbing and doing everything he can to get back as soon as possible. If that’s next season, it’s next season.” <a href="https://t.co/dhNPMH5apm">pic.twitter.com/dhNPMH5apm</a>
Ohm Youngmisuk @NotoriousOHM
Ty Lue says “with the status of Kawhi, we don’t know” when asked if Leonard’s indefinite absence dampens the mood a bit. Lue says he’s excited to see what the Clippers can do this season with new additions like Justise Winslow. <a href="https://t.co/BI6cBGGbeA">pic.twitter.com/BI6cBGGbeA</a>
But a year ago, this was a franchise reeling after a shocking blowout loss to the Denver Nuggets in Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals, the firing of head coach Doc Rivers and a number of changes to a locker room that reportedly had issues in the first season of the Leonard-George era.
But in the offseason, Leonard committed long-term to the Clippers, potentially leaving money on the table in the process, a decision he explained Monday:
Ben Golliver @BenGolliver
Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard on his 3+1 contract: “The best situation for me was to do a 1+1, opt out & then sign a long-term, 5-year deal… I wanted to secure some money & come back if I was able to this year. If I had took the 1+1, I probably would have not played to be cautious.” <a href="https://t.co/e5ONn89UZa">pic.twitter.com/e5ONn89UZa</a>
This year, the Clippers return a team that made it to the Western Conference Finals—looking like the favorites to win the title before Leonard's injury—and that genuinely seems to like playing together.
Just listen to Terence Mann and Nicolas Batum speaking about the other in glowing terms:
Or Reggie Jackson saying he always knew he wanted to return to the Clippers as a free agent while praising the locker room environment:
There was George, clearly ready to take on the responsibility of being the man while Leonard is hurt.
"I think this group showed what it can accomplish being down Kawhi. ... I'm ready for the fight for this year," he told reporters. "I've been in this position so it gives me a level of comfort being the No. 1 guy to start."
"How can this game be a Paul George game?" he added. "All of that is just going to come from, how do I help my teammates? How do I make them better? How do I be a good teammate?"
Marcus Morris Sr. said "obviously my level of play has to go up" while Leonard is out, and praised George's ability to step up as the top dog.
"P is one of those guys that's a great leader, great player, great teammate," he told reporters. "I think it's going to be easy for him. When superstars are comfortable it's easy to get the best out of them."
A year after the Clippers were the target of a near-endless deluge of snark from NBA Twitter, Monday's media day was borderline...wholesome.
Sure, until Leonard is back, the Clippers won't be a title contender. But this sounds like a group that is ready to enjoy the ride regardless. What a difference a year makes.