Report: Some Clippers 'Bristled' at Kawhi Missing Games, Being Late for Flights

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistOctober 16, 2020

Los Angeles Clippers' Kawhi Leonard (2) watches his shot against the Denver Nuggets during the first half of an NBA conference semifinal playoff basketball game Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

The Los Angeles Clippers are built around Kawhi Leonard and there's little doubt he holds plenty of power in the organization. After all, the team gave up a ton of assets to trade for Paul George last offseason as a way to entice Leonard to sign with them in free agency. 

But some players may feel as though Leonard took advantage of his clout, with Jovan Buha and Joe Vardon of The Athletic reporting it "ruffled the feathers of some teammates because of the preferential treatment showed to him from top to bottom."

Per that report:

"Players like Patrick 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 Doc Rivers when he could be pulled from games, among other things. Tyronn Lue was on Rivers' bench for all of this, but the Clippers were Rivers' show."

Leonard wasn't alone in reportedly earning the ire of his teammates. Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium also reported in September that a number of Clippers "had verbal spats with George throughout the postseason, citing in their exchanges a lack of accountability from him."

Charania added:

"In the postgame locker room Tuesday night, George was preaching to teammates to remain committed, for all the players to return to the team this offseason and stay ready to make another run. It was met by some eye rolls and bewilderment, sources said, because George did not back up his words with action in the series and the team has multiple free agents with decisions to make."

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The team hired Lue to be its next head coach on Thursday and Leonard and George were "consulted" on the team's candidates for the position. Per Buha and Vardon's report, "Neither player wanted the final say on the decision, but both offered to share their input, if the Clippers saw it necessary. Ultimately, both players told the Clippers that they trusted the front office and were on board with Lue's hiring, believing he matches the criteria of what the team needs moving forward." 

Lue may usher in a needed culture shift going forward. The Clippers unquestionably underachieved this past season, failing to reach the Western Conference Finals despite being the trendy pick to win the NBA Finals this season. Rivers took the hit for that failure. 

But Rivers also found himself between two very distinct eras, and cultures, of Clippers basketball. Two seasons ago, the Clippers team were a scrappy, team-first bunch that made the postseason without an established superstar. A large core of that group, namely Beverley, Williams and Harrell, returned this season. 

But in Leonard and George, the Clippers added two bona fide superstars. The team's identity was now more centered on those two players than the selfless and overachieving brand of basketball they had played the season prior. Rivers' job last season was to blend those two cultures. It was a trick he couldn't quite pull off. 

In comes Lue, who already won a championship with the NBA's biggest star, LeBron James, after replacing David Blatt, a coach who James didn't seem to trust. Lue quickly went to work changing the culture in the locker room, as Buha and Vardon noted:

"Upon Lue's promotion, the first thing he did was to demand that the Cavs' supporting stars—in this case, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love—sacrifice their individual brands and defer to LeBron. Lue also stripped LeBron of some of the power he'd stolen from Blatt inside the Cavs' locker room, and demanded the league's best player get in better shape, which got the attention of the entire team."

Like those Cavaliers, the Clippers had the talent needed in place but needed a new voice to lead the way. Like those Cavs, the Clippers may need Leonard and George to hold themselves to a greater degree of accountability going forward if they are to succeed in the long run.