It’s tricky to take too much away from a team’s media day. Everyone is eternally optimistic about what the future holds, they’re supremely confident in the work they’ve put in during the offseason, team chemistry is at its peak, and it’s smooth sailing ahead.
Although it is enjoyable to see everyone happy and willing to indulge the media, it also doesn’t feel very representative of what is to come. Nevertheless, tradition persists.
The Clippers do something fun at media day that I’m not sure how many other teams do (and by this, I mean the Lakers don’t) — they bring out players two by two. The primary benefit of this method is it speeds the process up tremendously. It also gives the players an opportunity to banter with one another while they’re answering an unending parade of questions. Win, win.
Instead of listing the highlights of what the players said at media day, which are pretty easily accessible on Twitter (or you can watch the session in its entirety), I thought it would be more interesting to analyze the pairings the Clippers brought out to see what they reveal about this team.
Note: The two rookies, Mfiondu Kabengele and Terance Mann, were both present at media day. They had some fun anecdotes about their time together at Florida State, Summer League, and their rookie duties, but I think those would be better explored in a separate piece.
1: Kawhi Leonard and Lou Williams
The Clippers’ two best players this season will be Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, barring some strange unforeseen circumstances. But that doesn’t mean they are the leaders of this team. Lou Williams was an undisputed leader on last year’s roster and has taken an active role in team bonding this summer as well. Even if the two new stars usurp part of his role on the court, Williams’ influence in the locker room and off the court cannot be overstated.
Bringing out Leonard and Williams together acknowledges the work the Clippers did last season to put them in position to acquire two stars. It also signifies that this team isn’t about to change its identity because of its star power, as Williams said to start the day:
I think it’s important for us to maintain that mindset. I think that works in our favor with the personalities that we have in our locker room. That should be the majority of our makeup. I don’t think we should just stop being ourselves because we have the addition of those guys. I think all of those things mesh well together, especially when you’re trying to do something at a high level. I don’t know if there’s a way to tell Pat Beverley to chill out. I don’t think that changes, especially for me, I don’t think that one mindset changes.
2: Paul George and Montrezl Harrell
The Clippers may simply have been doing the media a favor by staggering Leonard and George, because there was a lot of interest in George that may not have been satiated had the two shared the podium. But the pairing of George and Montrezl Harrell was another nod to the success of last year’s team, and a special appreciation for the bench duo of Williams and Harrell. The Clippers’ have a clear respect for the depth of their roster, which is demonstrated when they put their sixth and seventh men on the same footing as their two All-Stars.
Unfortunately for Harrell, he didn’t get the same love from the media that Williams did, and Clippers sideline reporter Jamie Maggio, the moderator of the event, had to intervene and ask Harrell a question on her own. Harrell is the kind of player who doesn’t need any extra motivation to accompany the chip on his shoulder. When Maggio directed the conversation to him after more than three minutes of uninterrupted George time, Harrell said, “I forgot I was on the stage.”
The Clippers stand out among other teams with a big two in the NBA because of how many quality players they have in addition to Leonard and George. Montrezl Harrell is certainly not ready to let anyone forget that.
Underrated interaction from Media Day. PG and Trezz were asked about implementing physical play this year.— Jovan Buha (@jovanbuha) September 30, 2019
Trezz: "I'm not gonna change nothing I'm doing."
PG: "We ain't changing nothing. I'm gonna be hyped to be more physical. Trezz take care of it, right?"
3: Patrick Beverley and Landry Shamet
Landry Shamet had one of the greatest shooting seasons of any rookie in NBA history, but it certainly seemed like the Clippers were pairing Beverley with his backup point guard on the dais. Shamet spoke at length about how he worked to improve his ball skills during the offseason so that defenses couldn’t play him exclusively as a shooter. He also said that the Clippers will probably have a “point guard by committee” because of the creative strengths of players up and down the roster, but playing more one is a natural evolution of Shamet’s game that will make him a tougher cover.
Beverley and Williams were both mentors for Shamet and the other young guards last season, and that dynamic was still evident between the two players even though Shamet is no longer a rookie. The main takeaway from Beverley’s comments is that he is focused on becoming a more mature leader; he lamented the number of technical fouls he was assessed last year, and consistently said “behavior is greatness”. He followed that with “the better your behavior is off the court, the better basketball player you will become.”
If the Clippers are leaning into the idea of Beverley as a role model, it seems to be working. He was very cognizant of the role his attitude plays both on and off the court, and continuing to partner him with the young guys reminds him of his influence.
4: JaMychal Green and Ivica Zubac
This duo felt like a reminder of the lessons of the first round of the playoffs. Everything Ivica Zubac has worked on during the offseason seems to be with the goal of becoming the type of stretch five JaMychal Green was against the Golden State Warriors. Zubac is expanding his range and slimming down to become a more capable perimeter defender, both qualities that Green demonstrated in spades after coming over from Memphis.
The two players represent a dichotomy of the directions the Clippers can take with their center position this season. Green is likely to start at power forward to save the George and Leonard from the physical grunt of defending post players, but there is a scenario where he turns into the center if the team needs his skillset surrounding their big stars. The Clippers have a larger financial commitment to Zubac, and he has more future upside, but Green is essentially hiding in plain sight right next to him. It’s good to have options.
5: Jerome Robinson and Rodney McGruder
This pairing was an advertisement for the strength of the Clippers’ culture. McGruder spent the final days of the regular season and the playoffs with LA, unable to play but still present at games and practices, and that experience was enough to convince him to return to Los Angeles without looking elsewhere in free agency. McGruder, who was likely to stay a Clipper because he was a restricted free agent, said his time with the team made that an “easy decision” because of how welcoming the players were when he arrived and what a first-class organization it was.
Meanwhile, Robinson was most memorable for revealing that he and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander remain close friends. They spoke on the phone this weekend (which is truly remarkable for two men that age) and Robinson even visited him in Toronto over the offseason. Two players ostensibly competing for the same role with the Clippers developed a meaningful friendship during that process, one that has continued despite the fact that they are no longer teammates.
If you need any more proof that the Clipper locker room was a magical place last year, you’re probably an Avery Bradley stan.
6: Moe Harkless and Patrick Patterson
I can’t imagine the Clippers deliberately put former members of Portland and OKC on the stage together after the two teams had a memorable first-round playoff series last season, but the outcome was delightful.
First, Harkless was asked if he has brought up Damian Lillard’s shot with Paul George. It seemed like PG was trying to get Harkless to admit that it was a bad shot, which is the tactic George took in the immediate aftermath, but Harkless wasn’t trying to get in the middle of anything.
A joking Moe Harkless on if he talked to Paul George about the shot Damian Lillard hit over him in the playoffs:— Tomer Azarly (@TomerAzarly) September 29, 2019
"It's a sensitive subject." [Paul] asked me about the shot, but we didn't talk too much about it. We're on the same team now. That's all we're focused on."#Clippers
Then, someone asked Patterson what lessons he learned about how superstar-driven teams can fail from his time in Oklahoma City. Patterson’s diplomatic answer about everyone deserving blame (but Lillard not getting any credit) didn’t sit so well with Harkless.
Here’s Mo’s reaction to Patterson saying a combination of internal problems led to a disappointing end to the season for the Thunder. pic.twitter.com/iTQz6tqutQ— Christian Rivas (@RadRivas) September 29, 2019
Setting aside the comedy, Harkless and Patterson aren’t projected to be much more than frontcourt reserves for the Clippers. After years of starting for a playoff team in Portland, that’s a significant step down for Harkless. Yet both players were realistic about the challenges of changing teams and having to adapt to new roles. They said they understood the business of the league and are grateful for the opportunity to play for a contending team, no matter how many minutes that entails.
The Clippers talk a lot about how their team is filled with high-character guys who Doc Rivers says can “be a star in their role”. At this point, I couldn’t help it — I was really falling for the offseason bluster. But maybe this Clippers team can actually deliver on it.