Clippers Media Day 2021: Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Top Interviews, Videos

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured Columnist IVSeptember 27, 2021

Los Angeles Clippers star Kawhi Leonard and Jerry West attend a groundbreaking ceremony of the Intuit Dome, Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, in Inglewood, Calif. The Clippers' long-awaited, $1.8 billion, the privately funded arena is officially named Intuit Dome. The practice facility, team offices for both business and basketball operations, retail space, and more will all be on the site when it opens in 2024. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu

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>

Andrew Greif @AndrewGreif

Kawhi on his recovery:<br><br>"Just trying to get healthy is what's next. ... That's all I can do and take it one day at a time."

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 &amp; then sign a long-term, 5-year deal… I wanted to secure some money &amp; 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>

Andrew Greif @AndrewGreif

Serge Ibaka said he already knew, from during last season, that Kawhi would be coming back to the Clippers. But he said he texted him when FA opened anyway, "I had to make sure he was going to be here, too."

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.

Ohm Youngmisuk @NotoriousOHM

Terance Mann on if the Clippers created a bond by coming back from 2-0 deficits in the playoffs: "It showed us who's who and what we have in each other."

Just listen to Terence Mann and Nicolas Batum speaking about the other in glowing terms:

LA Clippers @LAClippers

A mutual respect.<a href="https://twitter.com/terance_mann?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Terance_Mann</a> 🤝 <a href="https://twitter.com/nicolas88batum?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@nicolas88batum</a> <a href="https://t.co/EFpdKU9w3i">pic.twitter.com/EFpdKU9w3i</a>

Or Reggie Jackson saying he always knew he wanted to return to the Clippers as a free agent while praising the locker room environment:

Andrew Greif @AndrewGreif

Reggie said even if the Clippers hadn't wanted him back in FA he was still going to bring his bags and sit on the team's doorstep. <a href="https://t.co/bC8eDGQYyM">https://t.co/bC8eDGQYyM</a>

Andrew Greif @AndrewGreif

Reggie Jackson and Paul George both said that there was not another locker room they'd want to be part of than the Clippers. <br><br>Reggie said last year he found "newfound energy" and wants to continue.

Mirjam Swanson @MirjamSwanson

Buddies. Or, as Reggie puts it, “brothers.” <a href="https://t.co/yvCW9oLxRR">pic.twitter.com/yvCW9oLxRR</a>

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."

Andrew Greif @AndrewGreif

Paul George called his feeling coming into this season "night and day" from where he was one year ago at this point. Said he feels much more clear-headed.<br><br>"Whatever the capacity is, I'm ready for the challenge."

Andrew Greif @AndrewGreif

Paul George: "I just want to tackle and take on everything head on and kind of just do everything on the floor." He said he hopes this will be one of his most complete seasons.

"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."

Ohm Youngmisuk @NotoriousOHM

Nic Batum on what the Clippers will have to do with Kawhi Leonard expected to be out for an extended time: "We all got to do better but I am pretty confident in PG leading [Clippers]."

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.