Clippers stars Kawhi Leonard, Paul George eager to ‘get back after it’

No, Kawhi Leonard hasn’t stewed over Game 7’s loss to the Denver Nuggets. Nor has he been concerned about chemistry.

To hear him tell, no matter how disgustingly the Clippers’ season ended in September – they not only blew a 3-1 series lead in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs, but they made it through in each of the three losses that sealed their season – he’s not sick of it at all.

Instead, he said he enjoyed the opportunity presented.

In their first media availability of the season on Friday, via a Zoom video conference, Paul George also said he was not discouraged by last season’s slump.

The 30-year-old Palmdale resident – who, like Leonard, can forgo his contract and become a free agent at the end of the season – even reiterated his dedication, even going so far as to express his wish for the rest of his career with the team: “I want to be here, I want to retire a Clipper. This is where my heart is and I am happy. ”

“It leaves a bad taste in your mouth by blowing a 3-1 lead,” said Leonard, who contributed to the disastrous outcome, scoring just 14 points on 6-for-22 shooting in Game 7, when he and George became detained. winless in the fourth quarter and only scored one basket each in the second half.

“But I love it,” said Leonard enthusiastically, by his standards. “These are things that build the player. It’s the things I like, the challenge. The road to a championship is difficult. I like the process. I still enjoy the process. We will see how strong we are and whether we can build things like this.

“That’s what makes players.”

The 29-year-old Moreno Valley resident is clearly eager for his second attempt at delivering a first championship to the Clippers – which would be number 3 for him, having earned rings in San Antonio and Toronto.

When Leonard and George teamed up in LA last season, they brought with them title hopes, an unknown push for an organization that has never reached a conference finals in its 50-year history. And when that lofty hope sizzled painfully in the late season, it led to the departure of Doc Rivers and the hiring of Tyronn Lue as head coach.

George was critical of Rivers on a clip released this week that previewed his performance on the podcast “All The Smoke.” He lamented both the way it was used and the team’s lack of customization in the Denver series. But on Friday, George wanted to “clear things up,” he said.

“I respect Doc,” George said. Doc is a great motivator, a great coach. That doesn’t mean I agree with everything we did, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that I respect him and I respect him in that position. … We felt we were the better team, but (the Nuggets) played harder than us and eventually they passed us. I said what I said, but I wanted to clear it up because the idea is out there that I don’t respect Doc and put the blame on Doc, which I don’t. I’m just as guilty as anyone in that situation. ”

The way things turned out led to one such soul search in Clippers’ camp, and some notable off-season changes – though no major changes, not with the two SoCal-bred stars at the helm, determined to make it do good.

“Our ultimate goal is to make sure this is a winning environment,” said George. “That’s all that’s important, starting this year well, making sure it’s a winning attitude, a winning environment. Everything else will fall into place.

“That’s kind of where we find ourselves as a couple and as a duo. And it has to start with us, and from there we can force that on the team. ”

In September, when the seasonal defeat in the bubble was only a few minutes fresh, Leonard said the Clippers need to play smarter. On Friday, he suggested he thinks the veteran additions – namely center Serge Ibaka and wing Nicolas Batum – will help with that.

He also looked at some of last season’s long list of challenges, which started early and lasted to the bitter end.

First, Leonard came out of an off-season “procedure”, as he described it on Friday, and Leonard was confined in the last training camp. And George, who was recovering from surgery on his shoulders last preseason, couldn’t participate at all.

“Team chemistry builds from day one,” said Leonard. “Getting into the camp… me and PG hardly played any of the preseason games.

“This year we can start training camp and go full speed with the guys since day one, I think that will only build up for better chemistry so guys don’t fall in line mid-season or first. game. We’re all here together now. ”

Once last season started, injury and injury management meant that the All-Star tandem only played in 37 of the Clippers’ 72 regular season games together – when the Clippers only got all 10 rotational players healthy 11 times.

Add to that the months-long hiatus from the coronavirus, then introduce a bubble full of in-person trials, including multiple positive COVID tests and the death of loved ones.

“I just think everything had to do with accountability and chemistry,” said Leonard. “That all played a big part.”

Now, a fresh start, and the fun part, according to Clippers resident “Fun Guy.”

“Physically I feel good. I am motivated, I want to start, I want to go back after that, ”said Leonard.

George also said he is completely healthy and just as optimistic.

“For many people who don’t know, shoulder injuries are one of the most serious injuries to come back from,” said George. ‘I wasn’t myself. I couldn’t do things that I was good at or things that I felt comfortable with because my shoulders were not performing optimally. But I kinda got into that time frame of full recovery and so I’m fine. … I transcend into another area and another space to train and prepare.

“Last year was a difficult year for me. It was a bad year for me. But the great thing about it, the great thing about it, is that I am only 30, I still have time. I have many more years in the tank and I am motivated. It gave me a great motivator to come in this season and I’m ready, I’m willing to jump right in here and give it everything I have. ”