Clippers media day: Kawhi Leonard ‘not going to another team’
The Los Angeles Clippers opened training camp with their annual media day Monday. Here’s a recap from L.A. Times reporters Andrew Greif and Broderick Turner.
All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard, who is recovering from surgery to repair a partially torn ACL, was among the last Clippers to speak.
“Just trying to get healthy is what’s next. … That’s all I can do and take it one day at a time,” he said in response to his recovery and future.
Asked why he did a four-year deal with a player option for the final season when the best option was a two-year deal with a player option the second season and then re-up on a five-year deal, Leonard said he wanted security. He felt a 1+1 deal could have driven speculation.
“I’m here to be a Clipper,” he said. “I’m not going to another team unless something drastic happens.”
The Clippers released their training camp roster. Here’s a look:
Two days before the Clippers arrived at their training facility in Playa Vista, Leonard dedicated a court in Moreno Valley, where he grew up.
“This is where I grew up. When I come here, you get all the memories back in your head, the thoughts of the fun, the downfalls and the uprisings,” Leonard told The Times. “It’s a lot of mixed emotions for me to come out here. My family’s here still, and it’s always a good time when I come back.”
Read more here about the special day.
Clippers media day began with owner Steve Ballmer the first to take the podium. The interviews were scheduled to last until noon.
Ballmer was asked about the team’s vaccination status and he essentially didn’t comment, saying he wanted to respect the players’ privacy. Will the Clippers be fully vaccinated by opening night?
“I won’t make a prediction,” he said.
Veteran forward Nicolas Batum remarked on his decision to return to LAC: “I liked it. Why go anywhere else? They gave me a chance to be a player again.
“It was a pretty easy decision. What happened last year to me, I came here and had no expectation for myself and it turned out great.”
Batum and third-year wing Terance Mann have clearly grown close to one another. Mann said he’s glad to have met a vet like Batum so early in his career.
“You only see 10% of Terance Mann right now. He’s going to be great,” Batum said.
Coach Tyronn Lue said the Clippers’ approach with Leonard and his recovery from surgery to repair a partially torn ACL is for him to take his time.
“For the status of Kawhi, we don’t know,” Lue said. "… We’ve got to approach the season like we don’t have him.”
Lue says his expectations don’t change for this team without Kawhi. “Anything is possible,” he said, adding that the way they played last season without Kawhi showed some of that.
Does Lue operate like he might have Leonard for the playoffs?
“I hope he comes back Oct. 21 but the reality is he won’t be ready then. … We don’t want to force him to come back too early,” he said.
All-Star forward Paul George called his feeling coming into this season “night and day” from where he was one year ago. He said he feels much more clear-headed.
“Whatever the capacity is, I’m ready for the challenge,” he told reporters. “I just want to tackle and take on everything head on and kind of just do everything on the floor.”
Guard Reggie Jackson and George both said that there was not another locker room they’d want to be part of than the Clippers. Jackson said last year he discovered “newfound energy” and wants to continue.
George addressed starting the season without Leonard.
“I think this group showed what it can accomplish being down Kawhi. … I’m ready for the fight for this year. I’ve been in this position so it gives me a level of comfort being the No. 1 guy to start.”
Ivica Zubac said his sprained MCL recovery felt better a few weeks after the season ended. Zubac said he has felt 100% for about six weeks.
Zubac got a big grin when asked about what has to happen for him to take more three-pointers. “If Luke [Kennard, sitting next to him] isn’t doing it well enough, I’ll do it.”
Kennard called last season, accurately, an up-and-down season, from getting consistent minutes at times to being bench-bound at others. He said the next step for his growth as a player is consistency.
Veterans Marcus Morris and recently acquired Eric Bledsoe discussed their responsibilities, particularly with Leonard sidelined.
Bledsoe said his playoff experience is in line with this roster’s strength. “I’m a veteran. I fit in.”
Then Morris addressed his duties.
“Starting the season without Kawhi, obviously my level of play has to go up,” he said.
He then lauded George’s leadership.
“P is one of those guys that’s a great leader, great player, great teammate,” Morris said of George. “I think it’s going to be easy for him. When superstars are comfortable it’s easy to get the best out of them.”
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