Clippers stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George
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Report: Preferential treatment for Paul George and Kawhi Leonard causing waves within Clippers

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The 2018-19 Clippers were incredibly gritty.

The 2019-20 Clippers are incredibly gifted.

It hasn’t been the easiest adjustment.

Last year, the Clippers played hard and tough. They had one of the best-ever seasons for a team with no All-Stars, present or past. L.A. won 48 games and pushed the Warriors in the first round of the playoffs. That roster created an appealing culture.

Enter Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

The Clippers added those stars last summer and became an instant championship contender. That’s the primary goal – getting in that hunt.

But big-time players usually require more maintenance, and Leonard and George are no exceptions.

While with the Spurs, Leonard was reportedly envious of the star treatment other teams’ players received. Leonard’s uncle and advisor, Dennis Robertson, reportedly asked the Lakers and Clippers for illegal inducements during free agency last summer.

George has twice pushed his way off teams while still under contract. He didn’t request a trade from the Pacers, but by informing them he’d leave the next year, he essentially sealed his early exit. George made a big show of re-signing with the Thunder in 2019 then requested a trade to L.A. only one season later.

And of course, there are Leonard’s unique injury issues. He misses several games each season for what was confusingly called load management but is now dubbed injury management. That leaves his teammates to pick up the slack.

One of those teammates, Montrezl Harrell, sounded particularly upset with the Clippers’ outlook earlier this month. Harrell is a grinder, one of the key players on last year’s overachieving squad. And it turns out his tone amplified a larger concern.

Jovan Buha and Sam Amick of The Athletic:

Off the court, sources say there are some teammates who have struggled with the organization’s preferential treatment that is afforded to Leonard and George.

“I think it boils down to Kawhi not talking, and so who is their true leader?” one source with knowledge of the Clippers’ dynamics said. “How do you get around that?”

He isn’t necessarily standoffish, sources say, and there are times when he lives up to that “Fun Guy” reputation that has become part of his one-of-a-kind profile — even more so recently as he’s grown more comfortable around his teammates. He’s certainly more talkative and playful behind the scenes than in front of the media, when he rarely says a word outside of the scrum of reporters who speak to him, on average, for a few minutes at a time. But there can be a tangible distance, sources say.

Multiple players, according to league sources, don’t feel the team practices as hard or as seriously as it should at this point in the season.

Nearly every team in the NBA would trade its problems for the Clippers’ problems.

The Clippers are 31-14. They’ve gone 21-6 when Leonard and George both play. Winning cures most ills, and that will likely take care of these.

In the meantime, everyone involved should take a step back and be just a little more understanding.

Leonard, George and everyone else in charge – including coach Doc Rivers – should see how this looks to everyone else. Other players are scraping every night. It can be frustrating to see Leonard and George reaping the benefits without exerting as much energy right now.

In particular, Leonard should understand how his quiet nature can come across. That might be natural for him, but teammates are far more likely to rally behind a leader with whom they have a personal connection.

The upset Clippers also ought to realize this is how it works. Stars get preferential treatment. They’ve often earned it. Practicing a lot is more likely to wear down the team – especially Leonard – than help. Ditto Leonard playing more often.

With a few months left in the regular season, the Clippers have plenty of time to get past these issues. This team is still well-equipped to win in the playoffs, and lot of this tension is just about how to proceed through the long regular season to that point. Get through it, and a championship is still well within reach.

Knicks’ former player, G-League GM Allan Houston could get promotion

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There was a time when former Knicks All-Star player Allan Houston was seen as the rising front office star of the team. Since then, he has risen to assistant GM (before the Phil Jackson era), survived multiple management changes, and bounced around to different roles, most recently as the GM of the G-League Westchester Knicks.

Now he could be seeing a promotion under soon-to-arrive team president Leon Rose, according to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

As Leon Rose prepares for his imminent takeover, Garden constant Allan Houston has emerged as a candidate for a front office promotion, a league source told the Daily News…

According to a source, Craig Robinson, the current Knicks’ vice president of player development, has already had his responsibilities cut. Robinson, who is Michelle Obama’s brother, was hired by his Princeton buddy Steve Mills to oversee a comprehensive player development initiative…

The future of GM Scott Perry is unknown but it’s worth noting he has a strong relationship with Rose’s confidante, William Wesley.

Nobody knows exactly what the Knicks front office will look like after Rose officially takes the reins (he is still finishing up commitments to his CAA clients before coming over). We know William “World Wide Wes” Wesley will not have a role with the team, staying with CAA, but he will likely still have Rose’s ear. There will be a host of changes.

A deep house cleaning is in order in New York as the Knicks need to change their culture, not just their players. There is a lot of work to be done to develop players and build a foundation that will attract star players — right now the Knicks are not that kind of draw.  Houston apparently is going to get a chance to be part of whatever is next.

Steve Kerr says Stephen Curry will play this season once healthy

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“What’s the point? The Warriors have 12 wins, the worst record in the NBA, and are not sniffing the playoffs this season, so why bring Stephen Curry back this season at all? Why risk the injury? Why not tank?”

Steve Kerr has no use for that attitude.

Curry started practicing with the Warriors again on Wednesday. He will be re-evaluated the first week of March and could return to play soon after — and Kerr wants that. He wants Andrew Wiggins to get used to playing with Curry. Kerr defended the idea at Warriors practice on Wednesday (quotes via Monte Poole at NBC Sports Bay Area).

“It’s important for Steph and Andrew to get to know each other and to play together,” coach Steve Kerr said Tuesday night after practice at Chase Center. “It’s important for Steph to play without all of the guys we’ve lost who are not going to be back next year: Kevin (Durant) and Andre (Iguodala) and Shaun (Livingston). Steph in many ways has depended on those guys as sort of a giant security blanket.

“For a guy who is so skilled and talented, this has still been a team effort over the years. And he’s been blessed with some of the smartest players and most talented players in the league…

“He’s perfectly healthy. If the point is he might get hurt, what’s the point of ever playing anybody? I guess the argument is we’re not making the playoffs. So, are we not trying to entertain our fans?”

Kerr wants to build some familiarity and some momentum heading into next season. They might win a few more games, but with the flattened out draft lottery odds that’s not going to hurt the Warriors in terms of position. Beyond that, this is a down draft — in our podcast last week, NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster described it as the top three picks in this draft would be 6-10 most seasons — so Warriors fans may want to temper expectations about how much help this draft can provide.

Curry wants to play, he’s healthy, he should play. Load management has a role in the league, but this is not it.

Target score ending likely returns to All-Star Game next year

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It seemed obvious this is the direction the NBA would go after the most competitive All-Star Game in recent memory, after it generated an incredibly positive buzz. Now we have some confirmation.

A league executive told Zach Lowe of ESPN that yes, it’s highly likely the target score idea will be back next All-Star Game.

It is a “good assumption” the NBA will use a target score to end next season’s All-Star Game after experimenting with the concept for the first time Sunday, Byron Spruell, the NBA’s president of league operations, told ESPN on Wednesday in New York…

“The intensity popped,” Spruell said. “The guys really bought in…”

If the NBA uses the target score at next season’s All Star Game, they may tinker with the rules so that the game cannot end on a free throw, Spruell said. They have already discussed taking points away from any team that commits a shooting foul on a potential winning shot instead of awarding free throws, Spruell said. They could also force that team to remove the player who committed the foul and replace him with someone else for a certain number of possessions, Spruell said.

If this were used in a regular-season NBA game, then essentially sending a player to the “penalty box” after a foul on a game-winning attempt would have some impact. In the All-Star Game, not so much. For example, if Kyle Lowry had been sent to the bench after fouling Anthony Davis, then Nick Nurse could have replaced him with Jimmy Butler or Trae Young or some other elite player. It’s not that damaging.

Removing points makes more sense.

While the Elam-style ending was a success in the All-Star Game (and next season they may bump the point total up from 24, even though it took 15 minutes of game time to play the quarter, because that is an outlier for the All-Star Game), it’s not coming to the NBA. Which means it’s not coming to the G-League either, Lowe was told. A discussion about Summer League doesn’t seem to be on the table, either.

Where could the target score ending pop up? If/when the NBA starts playing a mid-season tournament, Lowe was told — and those playoff games could be just 40 minutes. Also, the G-League showcase every December makes some sense, Lowe was told.

The target score ending was a huge hit in the All-Star Game, it only makes sense to bring it back. But for the NBA, it will remain more special occasion gimmick than a daily part of the league.

Clint Capela still weeks away from making his debut with Atlanta

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Atlanta traded for Clint Capela at the deadline thinking about the long haul — he is the pick-and-roll big man they want to pair with Trae Young for seasons to come.

Just not much of this season. Capela missed the four games before the All-Star break with a heel bruise and plantar fasciitis, and the All-Star break was not near enough time to get that right. He’s going to be out into March, it appears.

Atlanta would love to start the process of Capela and Young getting used to each other on the court this season, but they are not in a playoff fight, so there is no reason to rush the recovery.

Capela averaged 13.8 points and 13.9 rebounds a game this season in Houston. He sets a good pick, rolls hard to the rim, has good hands if he gets a lob, plus he’s a quality shot-blocker in the paint on the other end. He should pair well with Young.

Eventually, once he gets healthy.