Jovan Buha of The Athletic reported Tuesday the "hard-nosed, competitive culture the team had built from 2017 to '19, predicated on their all-for-one ethos, was undone in a matter of months," because Leonard and George were treated differently.
Examples included, per Buha:
- Personal security guards and trainers
- Control of the team's practice and travel schedule
- Control over personal playing time
- Later postgame media time slots
- Leonard being allowed to live in San Diego
One instance was Leonard being allowed to use the female staffers' locker room for his personal pregame routine with the training staff when other areas were unavailable, which led at least one player and one staff member to raise concerns about the arrangement, according to Buha.
"How do you ever build a strong team with that s--t going on?" a team source told The Athletic. "I thought from the beginning, 'We're doomed. Kawhi wants too much special treatment.'"
An NBA source added: "What were they going to do about it? It's Kawhi."
In addition, the preferential treatment given to Leonard and George made it difficult for the Clippers' prior leadership structure, which included Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams, to maintain influence.
"Who did they look to as the guy that was going to bring them all together?" a league source told Buha. "It can't be the coach all the time."
The Clippers ranked second in the Western Conference with a 49-23 regular-season record, and they eliminated the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs.
L.A. built a 3-1 series lead against the Denver Nuggets in the conference semifinals before losing three straight games to get eliminated.
Williams told reporters:
"You know, we did have championship expectations. We had the talent to do it. I don't think we had the chemistry to do it and it showed. We had lapses on defense and offense where I think guys that played in systems where they were expected guys to be in certain spots offensively, a lot of different guys made adjustments."
Head coach Doc Rivers mutually parted ways with the organization after the postseason exit, and the Clippers promoted assistant Tyronn Lue, who won an NBA title as head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016, to fill the void heading into the 2020-21 campaign.
It sounds like rectifying some behind-the-scenes issues may be the key to getting to a title-winning level, though.