To sum it up, the preferential treatment Kawhi Leonard and Paul George were getting all year messed up the Clippers' chemistry. They were not a team - they were two superstars with a supporting cast. Jovan Buha's amazing story in the Athletic has a lot of details illustrating that.
- Leonard and George were the only players to have their own personal security guards and trainers.
- Leonard and George had power over the team’s practice and travel schedule, leading teammates to believe Leonard canceled multiple practices.
- Leonard and George typically didn’t speak to the media until at least 45 minutes after games concluded, under the guise of postgame treatment or workouts. This usually resulted in their teammates speaking with the media first, and for longer, essentially becoming the public voices of the team.
- Teammates also believed that Leonard and George were able to pick and choose when they played. Not only did they sit out games entirely, but also at times they accepted or declined playing time in the moment.
Buha summed it up like this. While both Kawhi and George got a lot of preferential treatment, a lot even for 2020 NBA standards, the team felt Kawhi has a biography to back it up. Also, Kawhi rarely speaks, so he can't rub you the wrong way with what he says.
Paul George turned out to be the bigger issue because he carried himself as if he's an established superstar, while most of the locker room felt he is far from it, wondering, “What have you accomplished in the playoffs?” In addition to that, he would never accept criticism and deflect responsibility whenever possible. Guess what he did on "All The Smoke" with Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson. Here's a summation of PG's explanation on why the Clippers had their meltdown.
- He didn't have the offseason to work out due to shoulder surgery - a.k.a. not his fault
- The team already had chemistry going, and he "felt off, like I wasn't a part of the team" - you guessed it, nothing he could've done about it, the offseason is to blame
- Doc used him the wrong way - we'll get back to this one, also not his fault.
- The team didn't have a sense of urgency in the Denver series - collective blame, not PG!
- The team didn't practice enough - Doc's fault, not PG's
There you have it, nothing Paul George could've done about it. The man did exactly what everyone had a problem with - didn't take any responsibility and misrepresented things. Let's go over every point.
Shoulder surgery + team already had chemistry.
This is legitimate - missing a full offseason recovering from double shoulder surgery will mess anyone up. You need time to come back and get a feel from the game, particularly with something so delicate as shoulder surgery.
But George then uses it to imply the team already had a thing going, and he couldn't integrate because of the way his offseason went. In his article, Buha writes about the fact George (and Leonard) didn't consistently try to develop relationships with their teammates. George spent most of his time with Reggie Jackson and Patrick Patterson. The shoulder might've slowed down your on the court, but that had nothing to do with developing a bond with the team off the court. A lot of preferential treatment didn't help with that either.
Doc used him the wrong way
So after he did get healthy and started to play, Doc Rivers used him “as a Ray Allen or a J.J. Redick, all pin-downs.” PG said he could do it, but that ain't him - he needs a mix of pick & roll, post-ups, etc. Let's check the numbers on that one.
Paul George finished 33% of his total plays using the pick-and-roll, which was a career-high. The prior high was 25% in OKC, via @SynergySSTstats. That’s very different from a Ray Allen or JJ Redick style role.
Kevin O'Connor, Twitter
In addition to him being wrong, Kawhi and George had a lot of influence over the team. It's hard to believe he couldn't get more plays he liked if that was truly an issue.
The team didn't have a sense of urgency vs. Denver.
George explained the Clippers were too relaxed after Denver won Games 5 and 6. The team was confident and didn't talk about changing their approach mentally or on the court. Funny he should mention this.
- September 13th, after Game 6 - “We are still in the driver's seat. It’s not a panic mode. We’ve got a Game 7. I like our odds with our group. We have the utmost respect for them as opponents, but I like our chances. I like our odds. I like what we have. It’s on us to finish this out.”
- September 16th, after blowing a 3-1 lead - “I think internally, we always felt this was not a championship-or-bust year for us.”
This is a common pattern with George, not just last season. Doc didn't give him enough pick and roll - he had a career-high in pick and roll. The team didn't have enough urgency - he was the one who lacked any urgency.
Buha's article also pointed out a lot of team members felt he was coasting in Game 7, “several players felt George (10 points on 4-of-16 shooting, four rebounds, two assists, one steal and one block in 38 minutes) didn’t play with the type of effort or sense of urgency that matched his public comments.”
Not enough practice
Another attempt to throw Doc under the bus. Rivers is known for having very little practice during the year. George said he felt a lot of problems on the court happened because the team didn't practice enough.
First of all, his co-star Kawhi famously said the regular season is an 82-game practice. Secondly, they joined a team that prided itself in being a blue-collar hard-working team - under Doc Rivers.
Any culture change that reduced workload and effort during the regular season happened to accommodate their two new superstars - Kawhi and Paul George.
Time to face the music
For a while now, I thought George couldn't be that delusional. After this interview, I can only conclude he is. He honestly believes none of this was his responsibility. In addition, a lot of the problems permeated because George would say absurd things in public. Even if he privately believed this, someone should've explained to Playoff P the way to get the trust of the locker room back is to say, "I gotta do better, starting with hearing other people's opinion and let my game do the talking."
This is where player empowerment bites you in the ass. You can't ask for a ton of preferential treatment and complain not everything was perfectly suited to your needs. You can't be the highest-paid players and leave your teammates to take the brunt of dealing with the media. This is how you lead a team.
Everyone understands superstars will get certain perks. But that works while they are pulling their weight - on and off the court. Kawhi and George walked in, the entire franchise turned upside down on their whim, and they didn't make sure that process goes over well with their teammates. You know, the other guys on the court.
As empowered as individuals become, basketball is and always will be a team sport. Let's see if Ty Lue and make that point clear to George and Kawhi.