The 18/19 Clippers were an overachieving blue-collar group without a superstar, and everyone thought adding Kawhi and Paul George to such a group creates an instant favorite. They will play hard, Kawhi and Paul George will score. As it turns out, it doesn’t really work like that. The locker room doesn’t stand for double standards.
Kawhi being late for team flights because he lives in San Diego tells you all you need to know. Obviously, Doc didn’t call him out and enforce discipline. That wouldn’t sit well with any group, particularly when Beverly, Harrell, and Williams are waiting on you. Add Kawhi choosing when he will or won’t play, and you have all the ingredients for a 3-1 meltdown.
I’m not naive; neither are NBA players. Of course, superstar players, the guys you build a championship franchise around, get special treatment. If you grow up in sports, hierarchy is nothing new. But there’s a way you do things. Raja Bell worked for the Cavs and openly said LeBron got concessions other players didn’.
“People knew that, and people on the team that wasn’t LeBron didn’t have those concessions necessarily made for them. What LeBron didn’t then turn around and do is kind of’ rub your nose in the rest of it – making you wait on the planes for him, and holding up the process, and generally acting like he was better than the rest of them.”Raja Bell, The Ringer NBA show
LeBron is a better player than everyone he ever played with. Everyone understands that, and players get that certain accommodations will be made for James. But it has to be done within a team structure. You can’t have the special treatment of your star player disrupt everyone else’s job.
The way you manage it from a front office perspective is key. As much praise as Laurence Frank and his team gets, the advice Jerry West provides and how great Doc Rivers is at communicating and building relationships (with veteran players), they obviously messed this one up.
“You have to present concessions as the organization’s decision, and the star can’t rub teammates’ noses in it. He has to be ‘one of the guys’ even when he’s getting special treatment.”Raja Bell, The Ringer NBA show
Ty Lue’s first interview signals the organization learned its lesson. He stressed a defensive identity (that means maximum effort is expected, and load management will be reviewed) and said Kawhi and Paul George would have to “adjust to my system and program.”
This is a moment in which Kawhi will have to overcome his nature. Being a leader means being aware that if you are getting preferential treatment as a superstar, it’s on you to make sure the team doesn’t suffer from it. LeBron didn’t throw all those Haloween parties and wine tastings because he really wants to spend more time with his team, and not with his family. It’s an investment in trust and team chemistry.
That’s what is expected from the face of a franchise, the supermax guy. You need to do more than score buckets and make defensive plays. The best thing Kawhi and Paul George can do on their first day of training camp is to walk into Ty Lue’s office and let him know they expect him to discipline them like everyone else.