Doc Rivers, Lawrence Frank on Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and the Clippers’ hectic offseason
PLAYA VISTA – On Friday afternoon, the L.A. Clippers’ practice facility was finally reopened after a summer of renovations. Clippers players, including Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, have been working out in the facility over the last couple of weeks, but the team officially announced its reopening as well as its new sponsor: the ‘Honey Training Center.’
Two flights of stairs above the newly renovated workout area, Clippers head coach Doc Rivers and President of Basketball Operations Lawrence Frank discussed the thrilling offseason as well as the highly anticipated regular season with members of the media. Among the array of topics discussed was the current roster surrounding both Leonard and George.
The Clippers are a deep team at the forward positions with two starting caliber forwards coming off the bench. Moe Harkless started 69 of the 76 games he played for the Blazers last season, including all 16 playoff games.
Despite being only 26, Harkless is entering his eighth season in the NBA following previous stops in Orlando with the Magic and Portland with the Trail Blazers. The Clippers were able to acquire him early in free agency in the multi-team trade between the Philadelphia 76ers, Miami Heat, and Portland Trail Blazers involving Jimmy Butler, Josh Richardson, and Hassan Whiteside.
Rodney McGruder started 45 of the 66 games he played with the Heat prior to his release late in the season. The Heat waived McGruder on April 7th in order to avoid the luxury tax and subsequent repeater tax. The Clippers swooped in and claimed McGruder almost immediately, despite being ineligible to participate in the NBA playoffs.
McGruder was unable to practice or play, but was around the team, in the locker room, and was made to feel like he’d been there all season. It was a remarkable situation to watch develop considering how tight-knit of a group the Clippers were heading into the playoffs.
“Within a week, if you asked anyone who touched Rodney, it’s like he checked every box in what we want in a Clipper,” said Lawrence Frank.
You can’t forget JaMychal Green, who made a name for himself for his defense and floor-spacing ability last postseason when the Clippers took the healthy Golden State Warriors to six games.
Even at shooting guard, the Clippers can alternate between three-time Sixth Man of the Year winner, Lou Williams, and Landry Shamet, who finished fourth on the NBA’s all-time three-pointers leaderboard for rookies with 167 made threes. Fellow second-year guard Jerome Robinson is also in for a big year following a disappointing rookie season.
The biggest holes for the team entering training camp, at least on paper, appear to be their lack of depth at the point guard and center positions.
Patrick Beverley is listed as the only point guard on the team. Ivica Zubac is listed as the only true center. While he’ll be backed up by Montrezl Harrell, Harrell is more of a small-ball five man than a traditional center.
Their options are severely limited. You can count on one hand the number of guys who are both available and fit with this team. As training camp grows near, it becomes clear that the Clippers want to see what they have with this group before filling their 15th and final roster spot.
“I think we’re going to learn a lot over the first two-and-half, three months of the season,” Frank said in response to a question about the roster’s holes. “You can look at at a roster and say, ‘Oh, I think the holes are going to be here and here,’ and you could be completely off.
“What Doc does is he puts guys in positions to succeed and play to their strengths, so what may look like, ‘Oh we lack this position,’ on the board, maybe he’s gonna make those adjustments and it won’t be there.”
The great aspect of the Clippers current roster construction is that a lot of players are, in large part, interchangeable. Beverley, Shamet, and Williams all have the ability to handle the ball or play off the ball. George and McGruder can both play the two and the three. Leonard and Harkless can both play the three and the four. Harrell and Green have shown that they can play the four and the five, when needed.
Additionally, the pair of stars who joined this team fit almost seamlessly into the identity the Clippers built last season. ‘Tough,’ ‘hard-nosed,’ and ‘competitive,’ are the terms Chairman Steve Ballmer used to describe the team throughout the 2018-19 season as well as Leonard and George during their introductory press conference in July.
“It’s very rare when you’re adding franchise-changing guys where you can maintain the same personality of the team that you had last year,” Frank said. “These guys… We fit them and they fit us. They’re about all the same stuff that Doc’s about, that our group’s about. They just want to play basketball, win, and go home. Kawhi looked at our guys like, ‘Yo, these guys fit me, you’ve got a bunch of dogs.’ And who wouldn’t want to play with Paul George?”
Rivers’ job will get more even complex when the team elects to rest Leonard, George, and anyone else who might need their workloads managed this season.
During his introductory press conference, Leonard confirmed that he was 100 percent healthy and ready for the 82-game season.
“Last year, I came into the year not fully healthy,” said Leonard. “This year coming up, I feel like I’m gonna be at full strength. It’s just one of those things you just take down the road and see how your body’s feeling. The goal right now is to play the season.”
On Friday, Doc Rivers confirmed that Leonard’s load management plan won’t be as stringent as last year’s, where the two-time Finals MVP sat out about 20 percent of the season to rest. He did admit, however, that there will be points throughout the season where the team and the performance/medical staff will look to rest players.
“That’ll be played out by smarter guys than me,” said Rivers. “I think you forget that Kawhi hadn’t played in two years before last year. That was his first time playing basketball in two years. Obviously, it was a more aggressive load management plan, but [this year] it’ll be done as a group.
“At the end of the day, there are going to be guys that will sit games or be rested, I’m sure. We’ve never had a load management issue with our teams. I don’t anticipate that being an issue. I do think when you look at our team, we’re deep, and I think that helps.”
As far as George goes, the Clippers don’t have much on his recovery from dual shoulder surgery.
“He’s made great progress,” Frank said. “He works his tail off. He’s been terrific, but we don’t talk about timetables. We leave it up to our medical staff to determine that.”
No one knows what this version of the L.A. Clippers looks like. Maybe they’re exactly where they need to be, or maybe they’re still missing a piece. Only time will tell. For the first time in, well, ever, the Clippers are dealing with legitimate championship aspirations and expectations.
The present-day NBA is considered a significantly even playing field among both conferences. A handful of teams in the Western Conference can make an NBA Finals run and no one would be surprised. At the top of the pile are the Clippers, who aren’t shying away from the limelight and expectations.
“I don’t manage expectations,” said Rivers. “Why run from expectations? I’ve never understood that. I think it’s a privilege. Players rarely get themselves in a position where they actually have a chance. Same thing with coaches, so when you get your opportunity, you shouldn’t run from it. I don’t want any of our guys running from expectations.”