Kawhi Leonard said he loves the challenge of bouncing back from the LA Clippers’ stunning 3-1 NBA playoff series collapse to the Denver Nuggets and will see “how strong” the Clippers are.
As the Clippers prepare to start training camp Sunday, Leonard and Paul George discussed the team’s failure to live up to championship expectations last season and how motivated they are to wash away the bitter taste of their bubble collapse.
“Physically, I feel good,” Leonard said Friday. “I am motivated. I want to start, I want to get back after it. It does leave a bad taste in your mouth blowing a 3-1 lead. But I love it. These are things that build the player. It’s the things that I like, the challenge. The road of going to a championship is hard. I love the process.”
“We’ll see how strong we are and if we can build from things like this. That is what makes players.”
The Clippers believe that having Leonard and George healthy and participating from the start of training camp this season will make a difference after their chemistry struggles last season. Leonard revealed for the first time that he underwent an unspecified procedure during the offseason in 2019 and that that is why he and George, who was coming off offseason shoulder surgeries, were not able to fully participate in camp last preseason.
George said “I wasn’t myself” during his first season with the Clippers but said he feels much more comfortable after being able to train this offseason.
“Last year was an unacceptable year for me, and I know that,” said George, who averaged 20.2 points, 6.1 rebounds and 39.8% shooting in the playoffs. “[This season] I feel really good, in a great place.”
George, who is eligible for a contract extension, said he hopes to retire as a Clipper.
“I’m committed, I’m here,” the 30-year-old said. “I want to be here. I want to retire a Clipper. I’ll say that, every year.”
George also sought to clarify comments he made earlier this week on the “All The Smoke” podcast, in which he discussed how he was utilized by former coach Doc Rivers and how the Clippers failed to make any adjustments as Denver came back from a 3-1 second-round series deficit.
“We all take responsibility into that,” George said. “Being one of the top players on the team … I wasn’t playing well enough. The fact that I gave up a 3-1 series [lead] being on that floor sits with me and haunts me.”
“Doc is a hell of a motivator, a hell of a coach,” George added. “Doesn’t mean I agree with everything that we did, but that does not belittle the fact that I respect him. … I did want to clear it up, because the notion out there is that I don’t respect Doc and putting the blame on Doc, which is not the case. I am to blame in that situation just as much as anyone.”
George said he and Leonard, 29, want to make sure there is a “winning attitude” and “winning environment” this season. They have been talking to new coach Ty Lue and are eager to get started. And while Leonard knows returning to play amid the COVID-19 pandemic will be challenging, he said he hopes the team can bond and improve its chemistry after a season that was disrupted by injuries and off-the-court circumstances.
Leonard also said he will continue to lead the team the same way he did last season, with his play and by taking action when needed, like calling players-only film sessions as he did at one point.
“A coach can’t put a battery in your back and tell you to play harder to go win games,” Leonard said. “You have to have the mindset.”
Leonard added: “But my leadership role isn’t going to change. I’m just going to keep doing the same thing I’ve been doing.”