LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue hopped off a plane in Paris, eager to knock a few things off his list. First, he wanted to work out newly re-signed Nicolas Batum, who had been in France training as the national team prepares for the FIBA Basketball World Cup European Qualifiers. Second, Lue wanted to … well, get his travel on.
“I’ll probably go to Paris, see Nico, work Nico out a little bit and then just stay on that side a little bit, just try to travel and see if I like it and experience something new,” Lue notified ClutchPoints prior to his Europe visit.
Tyronn Lue and Nicolas Batum have developed a bit of a bond over the last couple of years. Batum arrived to the Clippers with little hope left for his career, but has seen a resurgence and a renewed love for the game of basketball.
“Tyronn Lue saved my life,” Batum said in an interview back in May. “[I’m with] the Clippers until they boot me out. Tyronn Lue saved me.”
“Whenever you have a player speak on you like that, it’s a great feeling because that’s what it’s all about,” Lue told ClutchPoints. “It’s about the players and trying to get the best out of players. A lot of times, the players bring the best out of a coach as well. For Nico, a guy who has been in this league for a long time and a great veteran player, just to have him say those words … it just means a lot to me because of what I’m trying to establish with the Clippers and where I come from and just be able to continue to try to be better and get better every year.”
That relationship between Tyronn Lue and his players, especially anyone who has come through the LA Clippers organization, is exactly what the team is banking on this year when they’ll be in prime position to compete for an NBA championship.
There’s an unquestionable amount of depth on this Clippers team, a kind that’s rarely seen in today’s NBA. The front office, led by Lawrence Frank, has navigated its way into the best roster in franchise history. Now, it’s up to the coaching staff to make it work, whether some guys play and others don’t.
“You just gotta be honest with the guys,” Lue told ClutchPoints in an exclusive offseason interview. “Everybody’s not gonna play, and we understand that. Guys have to stay ready, continue to get their work in, but also, just faced with the injuries that we’ve had over the seasons, we need our depth and so knock on wood that we’re able to go through the season without any significant injuries that would put guys out for the season, but we need our depth. We know guys are getting older, so we’re gonna rest guys a lot of games and making sure we’re feeling good going down the stretch getting ready for them ready for the playoffs.”
The Clippers re-signed Robert Covington before free agency kicked off and inked Nicolas Batum to a deal as soon as they possibly could. They also reached an agreement with free agent point guard John Wall, who Lue is excited to have.
“He’s just a great addition for us. I think a guy who can push the pace, get guys easy shots, get downhill, attack, get to the free throw line. I think him and Reggie complement each other a lot. Just both of them being able to do different things. When you get a guy who’s been a perennial All-Star, a max player, you get a chance to get a guy like that, you definitely have to do that. We’re excited about it.”
The question marks surrounding John Wall will remain until he gets on the floor and proves that he’s once again in good health. The 10-year NBA veteran is coming off a season in which he did not play a single game, despite pleading that he was healthy enough to do so. In the last three seasons, Wall has played just 40 NBA games, with health claiming half of the absences and the Rockets’ youth movement claiming the other.
Tyronn Lue has heard the apprehension regarding John Wall and his durability, but he isn’t the least bit concerned. In fact, he’s using his own experiences with one Nicolas Batum as his prime example.
“I view it like Nico played 40 games in three years too,” Lue said when told of the 40 games-in-three-years stat for Wall. “And the job Nico’s done for us the last two seasons has been phenomenal.”
Nicolas Batum joined the Clippers coming from a similar situation with the Charlotte Hornets. Concerns about injuries, athleticism, and ability were overblown then, and Lue is confident Wall has a lot left in the tank as well.
“[John] is healthy, we’ve seen him play, playing five-on-five, individual workouts, he feels good. We just gotta do a good job of just making sure we’re taking care of his body and making sure we keep him healthy.”
As far as the starting position and whether that will go to Wall or the returning Reggie Jackson, Lue confirmed that it’ll be decided at training camp.
“It’s gonna be open competition between him and Reggie and just kinda see what makes sense, who fits right with the first unit, who fits right with the second unit, and then you know how I close games: whoever is playing the best is gonna finish the game. They’re both on the same page, they understand that both of them are great players and so whichever one makes sense for our team to be successful, that’s what we’re gonna go with.”
The offseason wasn’t a complete win, despite the three additions. Isaiah Hartenstein, who was marvelous for the Clippers last season, agreed to a deal with the New York Knicks not long into free agency. The deal with New York was more than anything the Clippers could’ve offered, so it was a no-brainer for the big man to depart Los Angeles.
Hartenstein bounced around the league for a few years with the Houston Rockets, Denver Nuggets, and Cleveland Cavaliers before finding his footing in Los Angeles. Under Lue, Isaiah Hartenstein averaged career highs in minutes, points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks. At one point in March, Hartenstein said Lue was “the best coach I ever played for.”
Lue, whose job isn’t just to be a head coach, but also to be a mentor, doesn’t necessarily see the departure of Hartenstein as a complete loss for the organization.
“It was a big loss, but also a big win,” Lue proudly affirmed. “I just think when you get a guy like Hartenstein who bounced around a couple teams, was a minimum player, and then he comes into our team and plays great all year long, gets a chance to make $8 million a year in New York, that’s a win for us as well. It just shows you that we’re able to take guys and bring the best out of their talent and who they are as a player, so I’m very happy for him.”
Hartenstein’s No. 1 choice was to remain with the Clippers, but when the Knicks came calling, the opportunity was something he simply couldn’t turn down.
As for Kawhi Leonard, the Clippers head coach says he has been doing well. The two-time NBA Finals MVP has visibly bulked up his lower body following ACL surgery in July 2021. He has been conducting most of his workouts in San Diego with members of the Clippers’ training staff there with him to monitor his progress. He also hosted a minicamp with some of his teammates in San Diego, and was also seen in a group workout at UC Santa Barbara last month as well.
While he wouldn’t divulge any details on it, Lue confirmed that the Clippers will have a stringent plan in place not only for Leonard, but for Paul George, Nicolas Batum, and John Wall as well. With the league’s 2022-23 schedule set to be released in the coming days, the team’s staff will have its hands full constructing the best plan to keep everyone’s workload balanced.
Kawhi Leonard 👀
— Tomer Azarly (@TomerAzarly) August 2, 2022
It’s still unclear how much Leonard is doing at the moment as far as taking contact or cutting at a speed close to 100 percent. The lateral movements and agility drills are likely among the final stages in Leonard’s recovery.
When asked if Leonard will be ready for the start of the season, Tyronn Lue remained noncommittal.
“I don’t know,” Lue chuckled.
When the LA Clippers extended their streak of consecutive winning seasons to 11 last year, it was deemed a successful year. Kawhi Leonard missed all season, Paul George played just 31 games, and head coach Tyronn Lue was forced into one of the most difficult coaching situations for a team chasing an NBA championship.
The 2021-22 NBA season marked the first time in Lue’s six-year head coaching career that he failed to reach the conference finals of the NBA Playoffs. He has been so used to coaching well into May and June that an offseason beginning in April provided him with a much different perspective.
He didn’t watch as many playoff games as some would expect, saying it “hurt” watching from afar. In addition to that, he also saw ways to exploit some teams weaknesses while also seeing opposing teams use schemes similar to his own against certain teams.
Lue did catch the NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics. The postseason, capped off by the six-game championship round, left Lue feeling confident about his team. It further contributes to his belief that they’ll have a serious opportunity to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy in June 2023.
“We stack up with the best,” Lue said. “If we’re healthy, we’re one of the best teams in the league and we’re gonna be one of the teams that’s gonna have a real shot at winning the championship. Our main thing has been health over the last couple seasons and just getting everybody back now, hoping we all can stay healthy, but we definitely match up right there at the top with the teams that can win a championship.”