The Clippers, by all means, continue to be a contender as long as they have their two stars in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. They've been mighty favorites by a lot of people and personalities ever since 2019 when they brought the two stars home to LA.
In the 2019-2020 NBA Season, we headed to the Bubble. Teams had basically equal chances because of the break and the rest, and the two LA teams looked to grab that championship.
Early on, the LA Clippers looked great; they were in the Conference Semi-Finals and in the driver's seat with a 3-1 lead against the Denver Nuggets. They just blew it. I think we all knew how that went and how in the moment of need, their two stars vanished, contrary to how the stories appeared one after another after their loss.
Perks of Being Stars
Well first off, it is absolutely normal to treat your superstars a little different, because after all, they are your stars. The ones you recruited or developed to lead your team. But in this case, the other players that the Clippers need didn't buy into winning a championship because of the said star treatment.
A story from The Athletic broke out two years ago just after the Clippers' demise in the Orlando Bubble. The Clipper stars were reportedly given perks in that season which shortly led to chemistry issues within the team.
These perks reportedly included Leonard and George having personal guards and trainers. As well as having a say in the team's scheduled practices. Both stars also got the power to participate in games or not as the duo only played 37 out of the 72 playable games together.
In addition, Kawhi was also allowed to live in San Diego, two hours away from the Clippers' arena; which led to delays in team events. Their teammates were forced to be the voice of the team as both stars took too long to speak to the media after games.
Though the perks were there for their stars, they managed to disappear when needed most in that Denver series as they didn't score a point in the fourth quarter of Game Seven, and many critics have highlighted Paul George's inconsistencies, hence "Pandemic P", and the lack of leadership on Kawhi Leonard's part.
Long story short, a lot of the blame was pinned on now Sixers Coach Doc Rivers at the end of that season, as the Clippers, hired Ty Lue as the replacement and retooled their roster every year after that.
After Rivers' departure from the team, he and Paul George went on it on several occasions as George called out the coach for using him wrong in games.
"Doc was trying to play me as a Ray Allen or a JJ Redick, all pin-downs. I can do it, but that ain't my game," George stated. —"I need some flow. I need some mixes of pick and rolls. I need some post-ups. Just different touches." He added.
Rivers fired back stating:
"Paul struggled in the playoffs. He struggled in the Dallas series. He needed somebody to blame, and I’m fine with that. Blame me. — I can handle it.”
Without a doubt, the image was bad for the team. Adding fuel to the already blazing fire, another story broke out on how Kawhi Leonard used Russell Westbrook to lure Paul George to the Clippers. And more Kawhi Leonard news as he was repeatedly called out for sitting games and such.
A couple of players took subtle shots at the team after departing, including Jamychal Green as he went to Denver after his Clippers stint:
"Blowing the 3-1 lead [to Denver], you know they had heart."
Montrezl Harrell left after the Bubble year and went to the other LA team, the Lakers, as a lot of blame was also pinned on him saying "he was the problem" on the team's Bubble Run, as well as previously having a feud with Paul George during the Bubble.
"I thought from the beginning, ‘We’re doomed. Kawhi wants too much special treatment." One team source told The Athletic.
Even one of the hearts of the Clippers in Patrick Beverley was traded just last season, and after his Timberwolves beat the Clippers in the play-in, he had this to say:
"To be written off like that — he’s injury prone, he’s old — to be able to play them in a play-in and beat their ass, no other feeling."
Adding veterans and guys who deepened their roster, the Clippers continued to be favorites after that season; they managed to enter the conference finals for the first time, falling short to the Suns, and last season falling short to the Pelicans in the play-in.
Right now, the Clippers are yet again one of the favorites, probably tied with a couple of teams and just behind the defending Champions in the Golden State Warriors.
Kawhi has been out since an ACL injury in the 2021 playoffs, as Paul George was left to hold his own for a while, and actually doing a really good job as the narratives of Pandemic P slowly disappear.
Leonard was back to his championship self before the injury, taking the team on his back as they almost enter the promised land, just falling short.
Their roster's looking really deep, Tyronn Lue has done a great job in managing this roster so far in his stint with the team. The drama has slowed down a little bit as Kawhi Leonard and Paul George set to play together again for the first time in a while on opening week.