Norman Powell has complete confidence he’ll mesh with Clippers and their dynamic duo

Clippers guard Norman Powell drives for a layup against Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Clippers guard Norman Powell drives for a layup against Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo on Sunday at Arena.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

As the five-player trade between the Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers went through last Friday and Norman Powell’s surprise began to wear off, he received a text message from a former, and suddenly current, teammate.

By Sunday night, after Powell’s 28-point Clippers debut, that text exchange with Kawhi Leonard still was their only communication. Leonard, as he was during their title-winning season together in Toronto, remains a “quiet dude,” Powell said, smiling.

Powell believes he hasn’t changed much since they played together in 2019. His self-identification as a “grinder” is no longer only a personal mantra, but also the name of his fashion line.

To hear it from Powell, that desire to “prove every single night that I can hold my own against the best in the world” has helped make him a vastly different player since the last time he and Leonard were teammates.

Since averaging 7.1 points on 34% three-point shooting over his first four NBA seasons — including 6.5 points and 15.9 minutes as a reserve during the Raptors’ playoff run to the title — Powell has averaged 17.8 points, with 40.7% shooting from deep, in his last two-plus seasons.

Leonard’s arrival to Toronto from San Antonio, where he’d won two championships, helped Powell understand what it takes to win big in the NBA, he said. When Leonard left in free agency for the Clippers, his void provided a larger opportunity for Powell to show what he’d learned. He nearly doubled his scoring average in 2019-20, to 16 points per game.

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Now the Clippers expect to be the beneficiary of Powell’s development from role player to a guard capable of carrying an offense.

“I’ve been able to mature,” said Powell, 28. “I think I don’t get rocked or out of whack, out of sorts when different things are thrown my way.

“… I think my confidence never wavers no matter what’s happening on the floor, how the outcome is on the floor or how the outcome is or my game or my performance. I really believe in myself and the work that I put in each and every day.”

Just as Powell is not the same player he was when he last played with Leonard, the offensive takeover he flashed in stretches during Sunday’s loss to Milwaukee is not the role the Clippers will need from Powell when he plays alongside a healthy duo of Leonard and Paul George. Powell’s track record in Toronto and Portland, where the hierarchy has revolved around a two-star dynamic, has him expecting a seamless fit.

“All my career, I have been in every single role on the team,” he said. “The guy fighting and scratching trying to get into the rotation. Being in a rotation, being taken out of a rotation, playing alongside Kyle [Lowry] and DeMar [DeRozan], playing alongside Kyle and Kawhi, playing off of them.

“So I think I can fit perfectly in here, with PG and Kawhi. … On nights when they are not playing or whatever it is, I can be one of the primary guys and I can also be one of the guys finishing plays when they are drawing all the attention with my ability to shoot the three, space the floor for them and be able to attack the basket and create from there. I am excited to see when everybody gets healthy and the team and what we can do.”

The Clippers (27-28) are asking Robert Covington, the forward who joined Powell on a private jet from Portland to Los Angeles on Friday, to be a shape-shifter as well.

Covington, an unrestricted free agent next summer, began his career as a small forward but played small-ball center in 2020 upon being traded to Houston. Clippers coach Tyronn Lue used Covington at center for two minutes Sunday, and he could play more at that position after Thursday’s trade deadline. The team’s three-center rotation of Ivica Zubac, Isaiah Hartenstein and Serge Ibaka is expected to be thinned in some fashion.

Ibaka has been seen as the primary candidate to move on because of his expiring contract, but when Lawrence Frank, the team’s president of basketball operations, said Friday that scenarios exist in which Ibaka and his expiring contract remain on the roster, some league sources interpreted that to mean Zubac could be moved as part of a package.

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The team’s surplus of wings has lent it some frontcourt flexibility, with the 6-foot-7 Covington saying that “the game has changed.”

“There’s not a matchup that scares me,” Covington said. “For a lot of guys on this team, we can do a lot of different things; we can all guard one through five and once everyone gets healthy, it’s gonna allow us to be very scary defensively.

“It’s gonna be hard to find a matchup where people can sit up here and like pick on us with our versatility.”



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Update: Memphis, which hasn’t played since a 20-point win against Orlando on Saturday, is 37-18 with three of those victories coming against the Clippers. Ja Morant missed the last meeting on Jan. 8, and in 14 games since has averaged 29.2 points, 7.3 assists, 6.1 rebounds and 4.0 turnovers. His three-point shooting, which has improved in his third season, dipped to 26% during that 14-game stretch.