One of the most common points of discussion since the NBA resumed the 2019-20 season was how much players and coaches could take away from the pre-hiatus versions of their teams.
Yes, the rosters were essentially the same, and teams had been in contact for most of the shutdown, but the break was longer than any NBA offseason normally is, and players usually have meet-ups with one another during offseasons, even if not with the whole team. That was impossible during the quarantine. These restart rosters may look like the same versions of the teams that existed in March, but so much has changed since then. It’s possible that extends to the basketball court as well.
“I think it’s new. Basically it’s a new season pretty much,” Kawhi Leonard said in a Zoom call with media when asked if this restart felt linked with the earlier part of the season. “After you win or lose in the playoffs, you probably have about three months or so to get back to training camp and then go through the same process again. But yeah, I feel like it’s kind of new.”
In a sense, it doesn’t really matter if Leonard feels connected to those 64 games. What matters is that Leonard still feels the same bond with his teammates that he did before, because those are the players he is going to battle with to win his second straight title. Even with the constant lineup shuffling the Clippers have had to deal with while in Orlando — with players going in and out of the bubble — Leonard still feels confident in the championship readiness of this group.
“I knew that we had a pretty deep squad. I knew how talented we could be. It’s about executing now,” Leonard said. “We’re all focused, and we want to win a basketball game, Everybody’s energy level is up. Everyone is pretty much confident, and that’s good from the start from us being four months off.”
The Clippers still have work to do to get on the same page on the court, for instance, their second unit has gotten almost no time together during the scrimmages. But even if too much time has passed for them to rely on the foundation of those previous 64 games, they still have the team camaraderie that has remained throughout the hiatus — just look at how the players stood up for Lou Williams recently.
They also have a leader who knows how to win at this stage of the season. Leonard has done this twice, for two separate teams in very different situations. He is unfazed by whatever unusual circumstances the Clippers are dealing with in Orlando. No matter what has brought the Clippers to this point, Leonard is ready to steer them towards a title.