If you don’t like that preseason win over the Denver Nuggets, you don’t like Clipper basketball. Okay that’s definitely overdoing it, it is only preseason after all, but it was great to see the team back on the court and taking a W at STAPLES Center.
There’s rarely a lot to take from these games, besides praying everybody can stay healthy heading into the new season. With the biggest stars sitting, you can’t make many bold predictions about what the season ahead may hold for them or the franchise. With younger guys and bottom of the bench players being given a bigger role temporarily, it’s impossible to say whether they’ll be able to have anywhere near the same impact once the real stuff tips off.
Still, there were positives to take. Reggie Jackson was back in the goggles, smiling ear to ear and showing off some extended range from deep. The new guys Eric Bledsoe and Justise Winslow showed enough of the attributes they were signed for to get us excited about their roles this season. Terance Mann and his younger supporting cast showed a lot of determination to secure victory. Above all though, the Clippers looked like they were still carrying their confidence from their record-breaking postseason.
Confidence has been a complicated emotion for this ball club down the years. One of the things that stands out when hearing the Lob City guys talk about why they always fell short is that they seemingly couldn’t find the right mix between their own self-confidence and having trust in their teammates. When that roster was disbanded, the Underdog Clippers possessed a confidence which helped them upset the odds, then Kawhi Leonard and Paul George were acquired and that arguably spilled over into arrogance which they couldn’t back up.
Ty Lue’s team looks it now has the balance just right. The fusion of Bubble disappointment under Doc Rivers and an additional focus on togetherness in the season that followed has created a harmony that only the 2019 vintage could match, with a more talented roster and much higher aspirations these days.
It was a confidence that was necessary when Serge Ibaka, Kawhi Leonard, and Ivica Zubac each suffered injuries in respective rounds of last season’s playoffs, as the Clippers’ “next man up” mentality and ability to stick together as a unit came to the fore. That bodes well for a season in which both Ibaka and Leonard are still in the process of recovering from those setbacks.
The team’s San Diego trip showed the first signs of that mentality still being present, with the standard media day silliness, press conference soundbites, and social media snippets providing the soundtrack for what looked to be a happy camp. A number of the players referenced the confidence their playoff run had given them, with LueTy even caveating his story about taking Luke Kennard out of scrimmage for passing up on an open shot by saying that he’d been impressed by what he had shown in general. That tongue-in-cheek tough love was an example of how everybody keeps encouraging each other to be the best versions of themselves.
When I asked Ty Lue about Luke Kennard's offensive responsibility increasing this year, he said the Clippers will integrate more split actions and off-ball movement for Kennard.— Shane Young (@YoungNBA) September 30, 2021
Luke will be more aggressive this year. Passing up an open shot actually got him pulled yesterday: pic.twitter.com/A2bWUuBcXT
Kennard himself said, “I think for me it’s just continuing to be aggressive and be myself. These guys have confidence in me. Coaches have confidence in me just to be aggressive. Don’t be passive, just continue to work on everything that I need to work on and just compete, have fun and play hard and just compete.” Have fun, play hard, compete could be the Clippers’ secondary motto to match drive, kick, swing this season.
Both ideals were prevalent in Monday night’s preseason opener, as the veteran players in particular were encouraging younger guys like Brandon Boston Jr. to go out and play with the kind of confidence their ability warrants. For a guy like Boston coming into the NBA after an incredibly testing few months, that kind of encouragement and the general vibe among his teammates will help him learn what it takes to make it in this league.
Perhaps the predictions for what lies ahead in 2021-22 will come thicker and faster as we navigate through this preseason schedule, but one call we can make ahead of this season is that it is going to be another fun one. Lue’s ideologies are firmly imprinted within the franchise, and the culture he has crafted with the help of his vets can be the breeding ground for more success this season. Aided by a young and hungry supporting cast, the balance has been struck in a way which has rarely been seen in Clipper Nation.