Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers reportedly "directed his ire" at Clips big man Montrezl Harrell numerous times in the middle of an animated team meeting before a Jan. 5 game against the New York Knicks, per Jovan Buha and Sam Amick of The Athletic.
Those actions were in direct response to Harrell's candid comments regarding the state of the Clippers following a 140-114 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies the day before, per Tomer Azarly of Clutch Points:
Buha and Amick wrote of Rivers' remarks: "The gist of the expletive-laden message had been sent loud and clear: Keep your frustrations internal. Don't vent to the media and create distractions for this locker room."
The 31-14 Clippers beat the Knicks 135-132 after Rivers' tirade and currently sit third in the Western Conference.
Harrell's comments, however, reportedly reflected some uneasy feelings in the Clippers locker room, per Buha and Amick:
"Tension had been quietly building in the locker room, according to multiple sources, but Harrell's comments confirmed the uncomfortability some felt. The comments also rubbed certain players the wrong way, as they feel that Harrell's postgame mood can be dictated more by his individual box-score performance than the game's outcome, according to sources."
One source told The Athletic that Harrell's commentary didn't emanate from a selfish place, though.
"Everything he does is out of his passion for winning," the source said. "He kind of walks to his own beat a little bit, but it's not from a selfish perspective at all."
Harrell, who is averaging 19.4 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, did not talk with reporters after the team's next two games. Per Amick and Buha, the 25-year-old "was upset with the media for what he felt was taking his quotes out of context."
The new-look Clips are largely faring well after adding Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, although the road to their current place in the standings reportedly hasn't been easy.
Buha and Amick provided more insight:
"As more than a dozen sources shared in The Athletic's reporting on the matter, the transition from the team's overachieving past to its promising present has not been seamless. From the frustrations relating to Leonard's injury management and his quiet ways, to the different views regarding regular-season competition, to the reality that their chosen style of play isn't always conducive to collective joy, there are issues tugging at this talented team that will need to be resolved by the time the playoffs come around."
Leonard was mentioned frequently in the piece. He's the most accomplished individual player on the Clippers roster, namely by virtue of his two NBA Finals MVP awards.
Buha and Amick mentioned sentiments from a source, however, that there "can be a 'tangible distance'" between him and the rest of the Clips.
That being said, Buha and Amick noted that Leonard has "taken on more of a vocal leadership role within the locker room, including coordinating the team's players-only film sessions that multiple players and coaches have cited as the key to their recent turnaround after a rocky start to 2020." He's also said to be more "talkative and playful behind the scenes."
Ultimately, any unseen issues look like they may be ironed out.
"The silver lining of it all, it seems, is that this is more about the imperfect integration of new coworkers than it is teammates disliking one another," Buha and Amick wrote.
Hours after the story dropped, Clippers point guard Patrick Beverley disputed the report in a tweet:
Regardless of the reported state of the Clippers' locker room and various thoughts on the matter, L.A. is still in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race at 17 games over .500 despite Leonard missing 11 games and George sitting for 19.
The Clips also beaten the West-leading Los Angeles Lakers twice, including once without George.
Ultimately, the Clippers' chemistry is being tested by integrating two superstars into a team that went 48-34 and made the playoffs the year before.
Smooth sailing behind the scenes from start to finish would have been a surprise in and of itself, but even amid the friction, the Clips are poised to make a deep playoff run as they continue to build chemistry.