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Clippers open training camp with stars healthy and ready

Denver Nuggets guard Gary Harris has his shot blocked by Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard during a game Sept. 15, 2020,.
All-Star forwards Kawhi Leonard, blocking a shot by Nuggets guard Gary Harris last season, and Paul George (13) enter training camp in full health.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

One year after injuries led Kawhi Leonard to miss training camp and Paul George to be sidelined for the season’s first six weeks, the Clippers’ leading scorers are expected to begin training camp this week as full participants.

“It’s a completely different camp experience for them this season compared to last season,” Lawrence Frank, the team’s president of basketball operations, told reporters Wednesday.

The team hopes a better start leads to a different finish.

The franchise has yet to outrun the discussion of the flaws that allowed last season to stunningly fall apart in the Western Conference semifinals after leading the best-of-seven series 3-1. After a blowout Game 7 loss to Denver, their third consecutive loss after leading by double digits, Clippers players took turns citing poor chemistry as a key stumbling block.

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New coach Tyronn Lue, a Clippers assistant last season, reiterated that a steady stream of injuries contributed to a disjointed feeling that belied the team’s strong statistical production.

The NBA announced its first week of nationally televised games, highlighted by the Lakers and the Clippers meeting at 7 p.m. PST on opening night, Dec. 22.

“When your two players of that caliber miss training camp, it’s hard to build that camaraderie and that chemistry, so just having these guys healthy, coming in tomorrow, I’m excited for it,” Lue said. “I know a lot of guys are excited just to be on the court and healthy and we’re just gonna take it from there.”

Frank said the front office approached the offseason seeking to upgrade its playoff rotation and was happy with adding 6-foot-9 forward Nic Batum and 6-4 guard Luke Kennard to add playmaking and 7-foot Serge Ibaka for his shooting range and rim protection.

The new additions join a team still looking inward.

“When you fall short, and especially the way we fell short, you can’t sweep anything under the rug,” Frank said. “You have to put everything under the microscope and look at how you personally get better, how as a team you can get better and organizationally how you can get better.”

George certainly appears more than ready for the fresh start playing for Lue, though not before first putting his former coach under the proverbial microscope. During an appearance on the “All The Smoke” podcast with former NBA players Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson, George ripped Doc Rivers for misusing him on offense and not preparing the team sufficiently during the playoffs.

Though almost a third of all offensive plays George ran last season featured him as a pick-and-roll ballhandler, the largest share that pick-and-rolls have comprised his offensive diet in his career, according to Synergy Sports, George blamed Rivers for not using him in enough pick-and-rolls, adding that Rivers ran him off screens too often.

Unable to train during the 2019 offseason following surgeries on both shoulders, George debuted as a Clipper three weeks into the season and scored 33 and 37 points in his first two games.

Yet “I just felt off,” George said. “I didn’t feel like a part of the team.

“That last season was just hard overall but I think for this year, everybody starting off on a healthy page, everybody starting off on the same page,” George added. “Me and Kawhi are going to get some time working out. I think everything is just not rushed going into this season. I felt last year everything was kind of rushed.”

As the Clippers were losing their postseason lead to Denver, “we never worked on adjustments or what to do differently,” George said. “We just literally having the same s—- happen over and over again. So it started to play a trick on you like, ‘man, what’s going on?’ We talking amongst each other like, ‘We gonna be all right.’ The conversation should have been like, ‘Nah, we need to change this, we need to switch this up.’

Catching up with former Clippers Quentin Richardson and Darius Miles, who have launched the podcast “Knuckleheads.”

“At the end of the day, I don’t think we deserved it. We wasn’t prepared enough.”

At the time, George projected a different demeanor publicly. After Denver won Game 6 to forge a series tie, George said “it’s not a panic mode.”

One day after starting center Ivica Zubac said Clippers players enjoyed hearing “negative talk” about the team’s collapse, gladly using it as motivation, Lue — who considers Rivers a mentor — said the opposite. The team’s challenge was instead to “block out the noise,” Lue said.

“Last year, we all know we underachieved,” Lue said. “We had high expectations and we didn’t accomplish those goals. ... We fell short of that and we all know that. But now we have a new attitude. We have a new system that we have been putting in place.”


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