Paul George and Kawhi Leonard both can opt-out after this season and become free agents. It’s why there is a championship-or-bust feel around this season’s Los Angeles Clippers, even if the front office is confident it can retain its stars.
George sounds like a guy who wants to stay, listening to his quotes from a pre-training camp media Zoom interview Friday (via the Associated Press):
“I want to retire a Clipper… This is where my heart is and I’m happy,” he said.
The list of players who have said they want to retire with Team X only to force their way out of that situation months later is dizzyingly long, so take these comments with a grain of salt. George himself re-signed in Oklahoma City only to push his way to Los Angeles a year later.
However, it speaks to a sentiment: George and Leonard both chose the Clippers, chose to come home to Southern California, and they are not going to bolt the situation on a whim. The Clippers have put together an impressive roster, they have what is seen around the league as a player-friendly organization, and they have an owner willing to spend to win. There are not many situations as good or better for an elite player around the league.
A lot of it will come down to how the Clippers perform on the court this season and how their locker room chemistry is off it. Tyronn Lue will be the face of that change as a new coach, but it more comes down to Leonard and George, who came off as tone-deaf to what was going on with the team, at least in the eyes of other players. A team’s stars set the locker room tone, change has to start with George and Leonard themselves. Will the Clippers have a new tone, and will that translate to the kind of grit and chemistry that was lacking when Denver came back from 3-1 down to knock Los Angeles out of the playoffs in the bubble?
The Clippers are going to be an interesting team to watch this season. On paper they are one of the few teams that could compete with the Lakers, but where the Lakers had a strong culture and identity last season, the Clippers need to get there. Will they is one of the big questions hanging over the season.
But George wants it to work out. He wants to stay.