Can you be “L.A. our way” and sit out back-to-backs?

Can you be “L.A. our way” and sit out back-to-backs?

The Clippers are pushing “LA our way” as their branding catchphrase to differentiate from the Lakers. Their message is simple: the Lakers are Hollywood, glitz, and glamour – we are Inglewood, blue-collar and hard working. It seems there’s a similar divide within their locker room. 

If you just looked at the standings, you could assume all is well in Clipperland. They are at 31 -14, 3rd in the West, half-game back from the 2nd Jazz. But, things haven’t been going well for the Clippers. Kawhi and George have missed a significant amount of time, and are still working their way in with the core from last year: Williams, Beverley, Harrell, Shamet, Zubac, Green, and Robinson. Seems a part of the locker room thinks there are too much load management and injury prevention going on.

Last year’s Clippers surprised everyone after Tobias Harris was traded, playing “LA our way” style. A lot of hard work and grit made them the darling team of the season. Now Kawhi and George are taking their time and the franchise is catering to their needs and wishes. Suddenly, the blue-collar identity that made Williams, Harrell and Beverly fan favorites are being compromised. 

“Multiple players, according to league sources, don’t feel the team practices as hard or as seriously as it should at this point in the season.”

Jovan Buha and Sam Amick, The Athletic

All teams walk the beat of their superstar’s drum, and the Clippers are no different. What made them the title favorite at the beginning of the year was their ability to stay deep despite the trade with OKC. Now the core that was their biggest strength as to accept Kawhi’s and George’s drumbeat. Within the locker room, Kawhi and George’s approach is a bit more Hollywood, more Lakerish if you please, compared to the ultimate blue-collar mentality of Harrell, Williams, and Beverly. 

Jalen Rose has a simple differentiation between being hurt and being injured. If you can play, you’re hurt. If you need surgery, you are injured. An 82 game season means everyone is hurt and is expected to play through it. A team that was the embodiment of sacrificing for each other now has a leader who sits out back-to-back games as injury management, or in Jalen Rose terminology – hurt management. That presents leadership challenges. 

True leaders don’t ask for preferential treatment, even when they could. Napoleon slept in the same muddy tents as his troops. Tim Duncan did the same dribbling drills at preseason as the rookies did. If Kawhi gets to sit out games to feel less hurt and prologue his career, why wouldn’t Harrell do the same? Everyone understands the pecking order of a locker room, but being a quiet leader requires other gestures that let everyone know their work and sacrifice is appreciated. 

Kawhi being so quiet and taking time to start opening up to people didn’t help. This is mostly an issue of trust and acceptance, something that takes longer if your leaders are known for being quiet. The Clippers have been having player-only film sessions in which Kawhi has been more vocal and the team’s been performing better since the practice started. 

Winning is the best deodorant in the NBA, and there is no doubt the Clippers will win a lot until the rest of the season. Kawhi and George will probably ramp up their minutes after the All-Star break and work on developing more chemistry with the team. Still, Doc Rivers will have to keep an eye on this issue. Their Hollywood competition is working on all cylinders and they need all their players 100% commited when playoffs come.