Paul George: ‘This is not a championship-or-bust year for us’

Paul George Kawhi Leonard
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The Clippers pushed all their chips into the middle of the table to get Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

Los Angeles traded Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, their own first-round picks in 2022, 2024, and 2026, two other first-round picks belonging to Miami (2021 and 2023), and agreed to pick-swaps with Oklahoma City 2023 and 2025. It was a lot, but it got them a two-time Finals MVP in his prime in Leonard and another top 10/15 player in the NBA in George.

It bought the Clippers a contender on paper — for two years. Leonard and George both have two years on their contracts and then both could walk.

Year one ended in a disappointing and embarrassing second-round at the hands of the Denver Nuggets, despite the Los Angeles Clippers being up 3-1 in the series and having comfortable leads in all three close-out games. It was one year of the two wasted.

Except if you ask George.

“Fact of the matter is, we didn’t live up to that [championship] expectation,” George said. “But I think internally, we’ve always felt, this is not a championship-or-bust year for us. You know, we can only get better the longer we stay together and the more we’re around each other. More chemistry for the group, the better. I think that’s really the tale of the tape of this season.

“We just didn’t have enough time together.”

That was a running theme in the Clippers’ postgame comments — they needed more time to build chemistry. Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, and the entire team needed more time on the court, something they didn’t get this season due to injury, load management, and the coronavirus upending the season.

“I think a lot of the issues that we ran into, talent bailed us out; chemistry it didn’t,” Lou Williams said. “In this series, it failed us. We know this is our first year together. We are a highly talented group and we came up short. Chemistry is something that you’ve got to build. You build it over time…. Continuity is very important, so we’ll be right back.”

“You know, honestly, I thought just you could see the difference in the two teams,” coach Doc Rivers said postgame. “That [Denver] team has been together, we haven’t, and you could see it as the games went on. They just knew each other so well.”

Rivers also brought up team conditioning multiple times. The Clippers were gassed in the fourth quarter and you could see it in their shooting — 33 points the entire second half, shooting 28.5% for the half and 3-of-18 from three.

“I thought conditioning, we kept having to take guys out because they were tired,” Rivers said. “You know, we’re in the playoffs,and you had to do it. Guys were asking to come out. So you had to do it, you know. But that’s not typical for Game 7, but it is what it is. You had to do it. I thought it hurt our rotations at times.”

Online — and for the next few days — the reaction to the Clippers’ loss was overreaction. There was talk of firing Doc Rivers, which is not happening — Leonard came to L.A. in part to play with Rivers. Any roster changes that are made will be done in consultation with Leonard because the Clippers want to keep him and George beyond next season.

What changes should the Clippers make?

“None. None,” George said. “First year together. You can’t even say we want to change our roster. We like what we got. I mean, we been saying it all year. Just chemistry, being together. The more we can be together, the better we’ll be. It’s year one. We’ve got a lot to reflect on. A lot to look at going forward and to get better with.”

The Clippers didn’t see their shortcomings as a talent issue, it was a chemistry issue.

“Just briefly, we had a conversation already amongst guys that we’ve got a quick turnaround,” Williams said. “We understand this is going to be a quick off-season and let’s get back to work and continue to build.

“You know, we did have championship expectations. We had the talent to do it. I don’t think we had the chemistry to do it and it showed. We had lapses on defense and offense where I think guys that played in systems where they were expected guys to be in certain spots offensively, a lot of different guys made adjustments. You know, it showed.”

If those same issues show up next year, then the Clippers will have even bigger problems.

Hawks trade Harkless, second-round pick to Thunder for Vit Krejci

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The Atlanta Hawks just saved some money, getting under the luxury tax line. The Oklahoma City Thunder picked up a second-round pick for their trouble of taking on a contract.

The Hawks have traded Moe Harkless and a second-round pick to the Thunder for Vit Krejci the teams announced (Shams Charania of The Athletic was first).

This saves Atlanta a little over $3 million, which moves them from above the luxury tax line to $1.3 million below it. While the almighty dollar was the primary motivation in the ATL, the Hawks also pick up a development project. Krejci showed a little promise in his rookie season, appearing in 30 games and averaging 6.2 points plus 3.4 rebounds a night, before having his knee scoped in April.

Krejci was on the bubble of making the team in Oklahoma City, now the Thunder pick up a second-round pick for a guy they might have waived anyway.

Harkless, 29, is on an expiring $4.6 million contract, which fits nicely into the Disabled Player Exception the Thunder were granted for Chet Holmgren’s season-ending foot injury.

The Thunder are expected to waive Harkless and buy him out, making him a free agent. However, they could keep him and see if another trade could net them another second-round pick.

Lonzo Ball says ‘I can’t run’ or jump; Bulls’ Donovan has to plan for extended absence

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Officially, Lonzo Ball will be out 4-6 weeks after getting his knee scoped this week.

However, this is his second surgery on his left knee this year — he had meniscus surgery in January, after which he was never able to return to the court — and there are concerns Ball could miss significant time again. And coach Billy Donovan has no choice but to plan for an extended absence.

Ball did a Zoom call with reporters on Tuesday and it’s hard to come away from what he said overly optimistic. Rob Schaefer reported on the call for NBC Sports Chicago:

“Literally, I really can’t run. I can’t run or jump. There’s a range from, like, 30 to 60 degrees when my knee is bent that I have, like, no force and I can’t, like, catch myself. Until I can do those things I can’t play,” Ball said. “I did rehab, it was getting better, but it was not to a point where I could get out there and run full speed or jump. So surgery is the next step.”

The symptoms are something Ball said he has never dealt with and have left doctors, in his words, “a little surprised.”

It’s never good when doctors are surprised. Ball said the doctors don’t see anything on the MRI, but there is clearly something wrong, so they are going in and looking to find the issue and fix it.

Ball has been diligent in his recovery work from the start, the problem was pain in his knee. Something was still not right after the first surgery. Whatever it is.

The 4-6 week timeline would have Ball back in early November, but you know they will be overly cautious with him after the past year. Coach Billy Donovan was honest — he has to plan for a season without Ball.

The Bulls need Ball in a deep and challenging East. He brings defense, pushes the pace in transition, and takes care of the rock. Chicago has other players who can do those things individually — Alex Caruso can defend, Coby White pushes in transition, Goran Dragic takes care of the ball — but the Bulls lack one player who can do all those things. At least they lack one until Ball returns.

Whenever that may be.

Deandre Ayton says he hasn’t spoken to coach Williams since Game 7

Phoenix Suns v New Orleans Pelicans - Game Four
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In a Game 7 against the Mavericks last May, Suns coach Monty Williams benched center Deandre Ayton, who ended up playing just 17 minutes in an ugly, blowout loss for Phoenix. When asked about it after the game Williams said, “It’s internal.”

Ayton and Williams have not spoken since then, according to Ayton.

Yikes. Remember that includes a summer where the Suns would not offer Ayton a max contract extension so he went out and got one from the Pacers, then the Suns instantly matched it. Ayton did not sound thrilled to be back in Phoenix on Media Day, and he was rather matter-of-fact about dealing with his coach.

It’s what every fan wants to hear — “this is just my job.”

Reporters asked Williams about this and he played it off, saying he hasn’t spoken with a lot of players yet.

It’s just day one of training camp, but there are a lot of red flags around the Suns: owner Robert Sarver being suspended and selling the team, Jae Crowder not in camp waiting to be traded, and now not a lot of communication between the team’s star center and its coach.

Maybe it all amounts to nothing. Maybe the Suns get on the court, Chris Paul looks rejuvenated, Devin Booker looks like Devin Booker, and none of this matters. But what had looked like a stable situation not that long ago now has a lot of red flags flying heading into the season, and that has to concern Suns fans.

 

Report: Lakers would have traded both first-round picks for Irving, Mitchell

Utah Jazz v Brooklyn Nets
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“If you make that trade, it has to be the right one, you have one shot to do it,” Lakers GM Rob Pelinka said at media day, pulling back the curtain a little on his thinking of trading two first-round picks. “So we’re being very thoughtful around the decisions on when and how to use draft capital in a way that will improve our roster.”

That tracks with the consistent messaging out of Los Angeles all summer: The Lakers would only trade the only two first-round picks they fully control for the rest of this decade (2027 and 2029) for a deal that made them a contender.

That meant landing Kyrie Irving or Donovan Mitchell, ESPN’s Dave McMenamin said on The Hoop Collective Podcast.

“I’ve been told that had the Lakers been able to acquire, Kyrie Irving, or the Lakers been able to acquire Donovan Mitchell, either of those players, the Lakers were willing and able to move both those [first-round] picks to do it.”

The problem for the Lakers is the market price for elite talent has moved beyond two first-round picks. The Jazz got three unprotected first-round picks (2025, 2027 and 2029) plus the rights to two pick swaps (2026 and 2028) in the Mitchell trade, not to mention three players: Lauri Markkanen (who they will try to trade for another pick), Collin Sexton, and Ochair Agbaji. The price for Kyrie Irving would have been at least as high, if the Nets really wanted to trade him.

The Lakers traded all of their young players and most of their picks to land Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook, except for the ones they let walk away (Alex Caruso). Before he was judicious in making trades like he was this offseason, Pelinka made deals that backed him into this corner.

The Lakers likely could use both picks to acquire Buddy Hield and Myles Turner out of Indiana (sending Westbrook back), but that doesn’t make Los Angeles a contender (a playoff team, but not a title threat) and it messes with the plan to have around $30 million in cap space next summer to chase a big name.

The Lakers you see in training camp are the Lakers you get. At least for now.