Kawhi eager to bounce back after Clippers' failures – Lue

Oleh Sacha Pisani 3 Disember 2020 16
Kawhi eager to bounce back after Clippers' failures – Lue

Tyronn Lue said star Kawhi Leonard is eager for the season to get underway after the Los Angeles Clippers' failures in 2019-20.

Lue will lead the Clippers in 2020-21 after replacing head coach Doc Rivers following the team's stunning Western Conference semi-final exit in the NBA playoffs.

The Clippers were one of the favourites to claim their maiden title following the arrivals of All-Stars Leonard and Paul George but squandered a 3-1 lead against the Denver Nuggets at Walt Disney World Resort amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Keen to make amends after last season's woes, Lue – who guided the Cleveland Cavaliers to their first championship in 2016 with a team headlined by LeBron James – hailed two-time NBA winner Leonard.

"Just as far as me talking to Kawhi, he is excited to get back on the court," Lue said during his virtual news conference on Wednesday.

"When you are dealing with great players, when you lose early on in the playoffs, you are always eager to get back. That is what great players do. We all failed at our goal last season and we all know that.

"Kawhi has done a great job of taking [initiative] to get guys on the phone, talking to guys, seeing guys more.

"He has done a great job of that. He is excited to get back on the floor just from talking to him and we are all excited as well."

Th 2019-20 campaign was the ninth consecutive season they finished with a winning record (49-23) but failed to reach the Conference finals – the longest streak of its kind in NBA history.

Former Clippers assistant Lue is no stranger to working with superstars, having enjoyed a successful partnership with James in Cleveland.

"Anytime you coach LeBron James, there is a lot of media scrutiny, a lot of pressure to win," Lue, whose Clippers will begin their season against defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers on December 22, said.

"And just being able to deal with that calibre of player, with Kawhi and PG being our two best players on the team, I think it translates over to just being the Clippers coach and being able to relate to those guys, understanding stars in this league, how they perform, what they like, what they want to do. Just being around guys like that, it's definitely helped me out a lot."

George – who averaged 21.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.9 assists in the regular season – struggled to produce when it mattered most and shot the ball much worse in 2019-20 when he shared the court with Leonard. The difference was even greater during the playoffs.

With Leonard on the court in the regular season, George's field-goal percentage was 41.1 compared to 48.2 without him. During the playoffs, George boasted a 53.8 shooting percentage while Leonard was sidelined, a significant improvement on the 36.8 per cent he managed together with the former Toronto Raptors favourite. 

Combined, George has a 48.8 percentage while Leonard is off the court, compared to 39.9 during the duo's time together.

"It was tough because we were confident," George said on the All The Smoke podcast when discussing the Clippers' collapse against the Nuggets. "We went up 3-1, we felt like, we're going to win the next one. We lost. We [were] like cool, we're up 3-2, we gonna win the next one.

"We lost. But during that whole process, we never worked on adjustments. We never worked on what to do differently. We just literally having the same s*** happen over and over again. It started to play a trick on you like man, what's going on?

"We are talking amongst each other like the conversation is, we are going to be all right. The conversation should have been like, nah, we need to change this, we need to switch this up. I don't think we deserved it. We wasn't prepared enough going into it. ... We didn't put the work into it. It was kind of just like, yo, we got PG, we got Kawhi, Lou [Williams], Trezz [Montrezl Harrell]. We going to be straight, we are going to figure it out."

There are some news faces for the Clippers after Montrezl Harrell joined city rivals the Lakers – Serge Ibaka arriving from the Raptors and Nicolas Batum landing in Los Angeles after clearing waivers, while Reggie Jackson and Marcus Morris re-signed.

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