Kawhi Leonard And Paul George Are Ready To Lead ‘Focused’ LA Clippers In Year 4 – Forbes

The UNA Clippers kicked off the 2022-23 campaign Monday by hosting local and national reporters for media day. It was the first time Kawhi Leonard held a press conference — or took questions in any public setting — in a calendar year.

Leonard, preparing to return this season from ACL surgery and a lengthy rehab process, was in a joyous plus playful mood as he joked with teammates, signed hundreds of basketballs to be given away, and provided the audience with one of his famous press day laughs.

There were multiple themes plus storylines from the Clippers’ first media availability of the season, but chief among them was the determination of both Leonard and Paul George, LA’s two superstar wings who fully understand their championship aspirations must translate through words to actions.

Leonard has only played in 48. 2% of the 226 possible regular season games since becoming a Clipper, missing all of last season after ACL reconstruction. Nearly 15 months after his injury, the training staff’s plan for him is still unclear. However , all signs point to him being ready for opening night on Oct. 20, followed by the particular team staying cautious with his workload throughout the season.

As for preseason action, which begins this Friday, Sept. 30, the Clippers will take it day-by-day along with Leonard before determining their status. Leonard did indicate he’s healthy and ready to go through any drills head coach Ty Lue has for the team.

“For me individually, I’ll be participating in training camp, ” he said. “Then from there, just seeing how my progression is, how I feel, what I’m not feeling, am I moving correctly, and just keep going from there. Just gradually building up. ”

He was visibly active during Tuesday afternoon’s practice, exploding off his leg as George contested in the paint:

This will also be the first ‘normal’ training camp LA has experienced since the inaugural Kawhi-PG pairing — remember, the 2020 offseason took place directly after the bubble in November plus December and Leonard obviously didn’t participate in the 2021 camp.

That, among other reasons, is why Mon felt like the start of a new journey. The vibes around LA’s practice facility were unparalleled as the guys embraced their first day back in uniform.

From a personnel perspective, it’s not the same Clippers you keep in mind from Leonard’s last time on the floor.

The unit he’s returning to looks much different than LA’s 2021 team that pushed the Phoenix Suns in order to six video games in the West Finals. It’s deeper. It’s more battle-tested. Plus it’s loaded with confidence, from top to bottom.

Norman Powell, Robert Covington, and John Wall headline the latest additions that will play substantial roles on a nightly basis. Powell and Wall supply the Clippers with components they lacked, while Covington increases the number of athletic wings LA can deploy inside a five-out offense without opening up defensive holes.

With Leonard going radio silent over the last 12 months, Monday was the first time he addressed the roster construction plus recent front office activity. To say he’s a fan of the trades Lawrence Frank has orchestrated would be an understatement. Not only did the Clippers bring in one of his former teammates within Powell, but they stuck with the plan everyone envisioned from day one — building a positionless roster that can adapt on the fly.

“I think he’s done a great job, ” Leonard said of Frank. “We’ve got a lot of talented wings on our team that can play each ways, dribble, shoot the particular ball, guard multiple positions. And I think that’s what you need right now in this NBA, guys that may guard, switch, and be able to knock down open shots. We’ll see how this unfolds this year, but I’m excited. ”

When asked to specifically touch on the new rotational players, Leonard acknowledged the strengths of both Powell and Covington. Considering Walls missed all of last season, Leonard just referenced exactly how he looked in games during the 2020-21 season and this summer’s offseason workouts.

“I think Norm (Powell) is good — he can play both ends of the floor, ” Leonard stated. “He’s good at on-ball defense, and definitely may shoot. He’s improved his scoring, their passing since I played with him with the Raptors. (Robert) Covington just brings us another guy that can safeguard multiple jobs and stretch that floor out for us. John (Wall), all I can really go back to is the two years when I saw your pet against all of us in Houston. He has been playing well. That’s the final time I probably saw him in-person in live game actions, other than the particular practices here. But he is been looking great. Let’s put it almost all on the floor and see what we can do. ”

For these Clippers, the clear separator between them and other West foes will be their own lineup flexibility and Lue’s situational decision-making. Without hyperbole, they could trot out 10 different starting lineups, depending on the matchup, and present a real challenge with their elite combination of defensive length and offensive spacing.

When LA went small against the Dallas Mavericks and Utah Jazz within the 2021 playoffs, Lue gave the rest of the NBA a preview of what’s to come. With everyone sliding up a position — including Leonard at the four, which I expect him to play a lot of this year — it unlocked a monster that forced you to pick your poison. Leonard plus George could mismatch hunt against point guards or centers, get downhill, attract help, and put an entire protection in peril.

Due to injuries, they haven’t been able to return to those deadly lineups that nearly captured the Western Conference trophy.

Since those series, the particular Clippers have improved their particular inventory. They can now nominate three or four players to step in for small-ball center minutes.

As much of a luxury it will be offensively, it’s actually the defensive end that will catches Paul George’s eye. As he discussed his team’s best trait on Monday, his mind automatically went to the terrorizing style they could play.

“I mean, we can switch everything, ” George said. “I think that’s the beauty and the scary part about our team now. We can switch every thing and still not really give up the basket. A lot of times when teams are switching, there’s still a weak link that the team will try to isolate and go at. You can’t do that with us if we change. ”

In theory, the lineups George is likely referring to include any combination of wings (and Wall) in instances Ivica Zubac is not on the floor. For the most part, that will be Covington, Nic Batum, or even Marcus Morris filling in as the center and switching onto guards in 1-5 pick-and-roll action, if necessary.

Or, if the team feels comfortable allowing Zubac to switch a lot more this year, it could be Zubac’s selling point to close out more games plus play heavier minutes.

If Wall proves to be extremely valuable around the offensive end for a group that often was missing burst, he’ll find himself closing online games. If that’s the case, Wall structure would technically be the only “weak link” opponents might target, just due to size. At 6’3”, Wall will be the smallest player on the court for practically every minute he plays this year.

Nevertheless, Wall’s defensive reputation within Washington was stellar. He was considered one of the league’s premier two-way guards that could force turnovers, disrupt passing lanes, and strip the particular ball from anyone with a loose handle. The last period we saw that version of Wall was during the 2017 playoffs, so it isn’t really something fans should expect every game.

But only being 32 and having a lot of time off, Wall’s physical shape seems to be assuring enough for George and company.

“Our speed, our size, our athleticism, ” George answered when asked about the team’s protective tools. “And I think simply our individual defensive IQ — with our quick hands, quick feet, across the board, and we’ve got guards that rebound like John (Wall). I think it’s going to be a real problem. Then when we get a stop, we go on the other finish, there’s pressure for teams to guard (us). If we have personnel within the court which all wings, it’s tough for groups to have to guard that and match up against it. ”

George is tailor-made for this style, and it had been evident all the way back in Indiana under Frank Vogel. While the Pacers didn’t have the versatile weapons to utilize those special lineups, you could see flashes of George being able to guard anyone on the ground regardless of dimension.

During Tuesday’s practice, Lue even alluded to the possibility of George playing point guard moments. It would be the ultimate cheat code against opponents that rely on smaller guards to ignite their criminal offense. For instance: Where do you hide Trae Young, Kyrie Irving, or an older Chris Paul if George is at point guard and Covington or Batum are the smallest players on the floor?

“It’s going to cause some coaches — it really may transcend the particular league to where the sport might go to five out wings on the ground, ” George said. “We could be that will kind of group that (opponents) try to emulate because of the success we hopefully have. ”

While Leonard’s media session was mostly covering his health and availability, George was faced with some of the hard-hitting questions. We learned about his latest efforts to become a stronger leader for the organization and his teammates.

For George, who has been active all four years with the Clippers but still affected by various injuries, this individual took this upon themselves to organize summer workouts plus preach the importance of relationships on and off the courtroom.

In order to fulfill their goal associated with delivering the title to the Clippers’ business, George has been determined to start 2022-23 for the right foot.

“I think each of us internally had a promise — I know I did with regard to myself — to bring a championship right here, ” George said whenever discussing he or she and Leonard’s tenure. “Then when you look at how close we were 2 yrs back, the year Kawhi obtained hurt, just how close we were… I didn’t want to leave anything on the table that I could have done more. I thought it was very important this summer to keep men connected, stay together, obtain workouts in together. It had been more just off-the-court stuff. I did not really care about the on-court stuff. We’re going get to that when camp starts. ”

Within 2019-20, George witnessed first-hand how difficult it can be to develop chemistry during the grind of a season. Across the table, the effort has to start in the offseason.

“It was even more just getting guys together, being able to laugh, ” he added. “(Powell) and (Covington) were new additions, so kind of wanted to speed them up on the particular team and make them comfortable from jump. We’ve been here. This core has kind of been here for years now, and when you look at the teams that win and are very successful, it’s teams that have been together plus gel and connect. That’s kind of where my mindset was come early july; just remain together, build the chemistry, the camaraderie. I thought all of us got a lot out of it. ”

That’s the most admirable part of George’s Clippers career thus far. Since the moment Leonard went down with injuries in June 2021, George has absorbed the leadership role that was sorely needed within the locker room. He’s embraced it, ensuring every player that enters LA’s culture feels welcomed from the moment they walk through the door.

This was not George’s design in Indianapolis, or how he operated in Oklahoma City when this individual finished third in MVP voting. This is now a player with veteran technique, and one cognizant of how his actions will set the standard for the entire roster.

“Definitely going into get away, I think we know one another, ” George mentioned. “We know what to expect. We know how to pull the best out of one another. Just iron away any wrinkles we have going forward. ”

Whenever he signed his extension with UNA in December 2020, George expressed that he owed the Clippers a trophy for committing to him long-term.

This will be the very first training camping (and normal season) that will LA offers entered using the entire rotation active plus healthy. That will alone should resemble the win regarding Lue as well as the coaching staff.

Barring any kind of injuries or setbacks within camp, mid-October will be the come back of the Kawhi-PG duo that has only played 104 games together. George detailed how much he’s looking forward to getting another top-tier scorer and creator back in the lineup.

“Yeah, I mean, I’m really excited. I am more excited (about) your pet being healthful, ” George said about Leonard’s return. “That’s first and foremost. I’ve seen his whole (rehab) from your second he or she got injured to the work he put in this offseason, going into this season. I’ve been in that position of being out and having to rehab a whole time of year. You know, I got to watch from the outside to see just how much work he put into this season. Really thrilled for him to get a chance to do exactly what he loves and get back on the court. Obviously after that, it’s the excitement of getting to play with the best two-way gamer in the game. ”

The Clippers also won’t be shying away from the pressure that inevitably comes with being a sure-fire title contender. They might get some flashbacks towards the 2019-20 season when majority of the mass media picked them to win the particular West, but they are in a much better place — physically and mentally — to handle all those expectations.

George, understanding there is always a finite number of chances to reach the mountain top, is inviting the title-or-bust mentality which could surround these Clippers.

“I mean, when you look at our roster, a person look at the health of everyone on this team, it can good to have that stress, ” George said. “The fact of the matter is, not a lot of groups get that will pressure going into a season. So for us, we honor that. We embrace that. Very excited for what’s to come this year. Since I’ve been here, I think we have yet to put a full healthy period with everybody in standard. There’s lots of optimism of what we can accomplish when we’re all full strength. ”

Through all of the ups and downs George has been through dating back to the bubble, the biggest advancements we’ve seen rest in his management, maturity, and how he responds to adversity.

George’s self-awareness and honesty have made your pet more universally liked by NBA fans regardless of allegiance.

One of his final statements through media day time stood out there as the most powerful, as he used a single word to depict his mindset heading into his 13th season.

“Focused, ” this individual said. “Understanding the opportunity and the (championship) window. And I think that is how I approached every day associated with training had been just a focused, locked-in mentality to bring the best out of myself, to get the best out of personally. ”

You don’t hear many stars, particularly top-15 players in the league, admit they are running out of time to capitalize on their prime.

“My window is shrinking to be a champion, ” George said.

The Clippers’ priorities are set for this coming time of year; keep Leonard fresh, commit to being the particular league’s most-feared defensive team, and continue to develop the strong habits George provides instilled just about all summer.

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