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Five questions the Clippers face heading into training camp

All-Star forwards Paul George, left, and Kawhi Leonard watch a game from the bench on Dec. 3, 2019.
All-Star forwards Paul George, left, and Kawhi Leonard have plenty of questions to answer moving into their second season together with the Clippers.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

In recent years it had become customary for the Clippers to begin training camp with a full practice before hopping on a jet and resuming their preseason preparations in Hawaii.

In setting and structure, training camp will look a lot different in December.

Because of health protocols put in place by the NBA to play amid a pandemic, the first full Clippers practice inside the team’s Playa Vista facility won’t take place for several days. Instead the official kickoff to camp begins Tuesday with individual workouts with no more than four players and coaches present at the same time.

Overseeing it all will be Tyronn Lue, the new coach tasked with winning the championship his predecessor and close friend, Doc Rivers, could not. As Lue knows from experience last season as a Clippers assistant, talent alone won’t take the franchise on its first trip to the conference finals and beyond.

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Here are five questions the Clippers face to begin training camp.

Injuries riddled lineups: How healthy are the Clippers?

The season’s opening night Dec. 22 will come just more than one year since Luke Kennard’s last game with Detroit, after which the Pistons shut down the 6-foot-5 guard to begin his recovery from bilateral knee tendinitis. When the Clippers traded for Kennard on draft night, there were questions about those knees, but the 24-year-old left-hander enters camp feeling 100% healthy and confident in a bounce-back season, a person with knowledge of Kennard’s recovery said.

The roster won’t begin camp completely healthy, however.

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Jay Scrubb, the 6-foot-6 guard drafted 55th overall, will undergo surgery this week to insert a screw in his right foot, according to a person with knowledge of the plan. The recovery is expected to take three to four months. Scrubb was the junior college player of the year and will receive one of the team’s two two-way contracts. He has explosive athleticism, and the surgery is a step to maintain it.

How quickly can the regular rotation get on the same page?

Continuity was a problem last season for a team that practiced together entirely for the first time in November and didn’t play a game as a healthy unit until Christmas. Whether or not the team plans to begin the season managing the workloads of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George coming off their condensed, three-month offseason, the Clippers nonetheless need both to at least be available to participate if they hope to foster the on-court familiarity last year’s team lacked. Lue has called maintaining the roster’s health the “biggest thing,” and it goes beyond Leonard and George. Injuries cost starting guard Patrick Beverley 25 games last season.

A look at how the Clippers roster for the 2020-21 NBA season.

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How does the locker room rebuild trust?

Some of last season’s returning players were frustrated seeing the leeway the team afforded to Leonard and George to accommodate the offseason additions, and the teammates’ lack of time together on the court was also a major factor in what players described as poor chemistry, people with knowledge of the situation said.

The tweaked roster has not undergone wholesale changes this offseason, but it’s too much to expect Kennard and recently acquired big man Serge Ibaka to immediately step into a vocal leadership role. How, then, does last season’s leadership void get filled? Lue already said he expects it to be a collective effort.

“I don’t think you can just say leadership in one person and put that demand on one person to do that,” Lue said in October.

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Will young players take a leap forward?

Team owner Steve Ballmer, team president Lawrence Frank and Lue all said it in October — with few obvious ways to upgrade the roster either through the draft or trades, getting the most out of their roster is vital for future success. Starting center Ivica Zubac’s progress last season is one such player-development success story. But the team needs more like it, which is why the growth of second-year players Terance Mann and Mfiondu Kabengele will be watched carefully.

As he transitioned from an off-guard wing to more of a point guard, Mann received opportunities last season, but his ability to contribute consistently off the bench remains to be seen. How much time will Kabengele be given to improve? The Clippers traded into the first round of last year’s draft to get the 6-10 big man then rarely used him, leaving him off the team’s “bubble” roster.

If the Clippers manage to sign former Hornets forward Nicolas Batum, the 32-year-old would enhance their three-point shooting and defending capabilities.

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Can Lue unlock the Clippers’ potential?

Best known as the coach who privately challenged LeBron James to be better during Cleveland’s 2016 championship run, Lue wasted little time setting expectations publicly for his Clippers stars when he said Leonard and George must become the team’s defensive standard every night they play. Ensuring they set that tone, and holding teammates accountable when they don’t pick up the slack, could go a long way toward realizing the defense’s lockdown potential.

Offensively, Lue’s challenge is getting his best scorers the ball in their favorite spots while also reducing the amount of stagnant isolation that was too often a staple last season.


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