Clippers begin by looking back to last season’s end. It fires them up
Hours before running practice as a head coach for the first time in more than two years, Clippers coach Tyronn Lue found it difficult to sleep Saturday night.
“I just felt excited,” Lue said, “ready to get going and thankful for this opportunity.”
He wasn’t the only Clipper looking forward to Sunday’s first group workout of training camp.
Nearly three months after the Clippers crashed out of the conference semifinals in a fashion that team owner Steve Ballmer said in October “really disappointed me,” and which led to the departure of coach Doc Rivers and a reshuffled bench, their wait to start fresh ended with a workout Sunday. Lue said every player was available to participate except for rookie guard Jay Scrubb, who will miss about three months after foot surgery last week.
To Lue, moving on means focusing on the present.
“Taking it day by day,” he said.
To his players, it means holding onto part of their past. Every player from last year’s team who has spoken in recent days has cited as motivation the team’s loss to Denver despite leading the series 3-1.
Clippers look forward to gathering for full pratices with healthy stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, unlike last year. They hope the season ends better too.
Guard Patrick Beverley said his frustrations had yet to dissipate, likening the memory to wood stoking a fire.
“The attitude around here is, guys are pissed off, which is good,” Beverley said. “The feel is that we want to get our lick back. When I say lick back, I mean ... somebody hits you when you are growing up, your mom tells you to hit them back; that’s getting your lick back. We got hit by the Nuggets and we want to get our lick back, and that is our focus.”
Nicolas Batum, a 6-foot-9 wing entering his 13th season, didn’t see the team’s Orlando issues up close, having joined the team only last week. Still, his first days around the practice facility were enough to gauge the prevailing mood.
“All I know is they tried to change … what happened last year,” he said. “What I know is they learned from their mistakes.”
He added: “Everybody wants to prove themselves.”
Batum feels no different. Last season, he averaged a career-worst 3.6 points and 29% three-point shooting with Charlotte in 23 minutes per game, the fewest since his rookie season in 2009. When the Hornets waived him last week to spread the hit of his $27-million salary over several years, Batum received calls from numerous contenders across the league.
“I was pretty surprised by it,” he said, “especially [with] what happened to me the last 18 months.”
Knowing his passing and defense aligned with the team’s desperate need for wing depth off the bench, and believing in Lue’s system, Batum chose the Clippers. He spoke Sunday with self-awareness, saying he believes he can still complement a playoff team’s established hierarchy.
“I know who I am right now in this stage of my career, going to be 32 next week,” Batum said. “I know what I can do to help the team and what I can do to help stars and big-time players to try to be successful and make their life easier, and I felt like Ty Lue will want to use me that way.
The clock is ticking on the Kawhi Leonard-Paul George alliance that was supposed to tip the NBA balance of power in L.A.
“Just try to move the ball around and sometimes create space and plays for some guys and rebound, play defense, be successful both ends of the floor, play defense one through four, switch on screens and stuff like that. So I know I can still do a lot of things on offense and defense.”
But as the Clippers who were part of last season know, success will hinge on more than on-court fit and flexibility.
“I think anything involving you being up real big and losing, you win a lot of money and you lose it, that is not a lack of leadership, that’s lack of somewhat of toughness, mental toughness,” Beverley said. “I think that is what we have to address.”
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