A bombshell profile from Clippers beat writer Jovan Buha paints the portrait of a deeply dysfunctional locker room with non-existent chemistry, fueling a disconnect that sabotaged the team’s title aspirations in 2020. According to Buha, teammates and staff grew irritated by the preferential treatment received by Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, the latter of whom was often late for flights while commuting from his home in San Diego, located roughly 130 miles from the team’s Los Angeles headquarters.
Leonard’s elaborate pre-game routine was also a source of tension within the organization. Per Buha, Leonard would require 20-45 minutes of solitude in a “private space” before games, occasionally displacing the Clippers’ Staples Center co-tenant, the Los Angeles Kings, who weren’t able to access their locker room during this time. Leonard’s pregame ritual was even more obtrusive when the Clippers ventured to other arenas with the 29-year-old often taking up residence in locker rooms usually reserved for female staffers.
“I thought from the beginning, ‘We’re doomed,’” an anonymous team source expressed to Buha. “Kawhi wants too much special treatment.” Along with George, Leonard was granted his own security detail, personal trainer and also held power over the team’s practice and travel schedules. The Clippers also shielded their stars from the media, making them unavailable to reporters until at least 45 minutes after the game. With neither willing to talk, the media burden was placed on other players, who resented having to answer for the Clippers’ superstar duo. Most damning of all, a number of teammates allege George and Leonard were “able to pick and choose when they played,” receiving frequent maintenance days not afforded to other players while even declining playing time during games.
At no point did the Clippers, despite their immense on-court talent, operate as a cohesive unit in 2020 with holdovers noting the stark contrast in tone compared to the previous season. Leonard and George, neither of whom could be described as vocal leaders, largely took a “lead-by-example” approach in their first season playing together, creating a “discernable distance” between themselves and the rest of the locker room. Their lack of accountability predictably rubbed teammates the wrong way.
“The players didn’t joke around as much before or after games. They were far more serious—and quiet. Players, coaches and staff became less friendly with and available to the media,” acknowledged Buha, who also noted the team’s concerning lack of “dialogue,” particularly when encountering rough patches. “When there was conflict, the group would typically go silent, the players retreating into their own worlds, on their phones or at their lockers.”
While some teammates were willing to give Leonard, a two-time NBA Finals MVP, somewhat of a pass, they weren’t as tolerant of George with many feeling his star treatment hadn’t been earned. “George, while a perennial All-Star and All-NBA candidate, didn’t carry the same cachet with his teammates,” described Buha. “There was a sentiment among certain teammates of, “What have you accomplished in the playoffs?’” The Clippers were similarly agitated by George’s lack of urgency with teammates flabbergasted by the six-time All-Star’s troubling assertion that 2020 was “not a championship-or-bust year.”
Between the team’s ongoing chemistry issues (newcomer Marcus Morris ruffled feathers upon his arrival at the trade deadline), the drama surrounding Lou Williams’ infamous strip club visit and Doc Rivers’ own shortcomings as a head coach, it should be no surprise the Clippers collapsed the way they did in the postseason, squandering a 3-1 series lead in a stunning seven-game loss to Denver in the Western Conference semis. Los Angeles is hoping for better results under new coach Tyronn Lue, who previously won a championship with Cleveland, but with Leonard and George’s potential free agencies looming next summer, the Clippers’ upcoming season doesn’t figure to be any less stressful than the one that came before it.