Kawhi Leonard and Paul George were choosing when to play, teammates believe

Paul George, Kawhi Leonard
Photo: essentiallysports.com

When the duo of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George joined the Los Angeles Clippers in the summer of 2019, the team instantly became one of the top favorites to win a championship. Many projected the Clippers would face the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.

The reality was different. Surprisingly, Leonard and George went out in the Western Conference semifinals against the Denver Nuggets despite holding a 3-1 lead in the series. While there may have been a number of reasons why the season for the Clippers ended in such fashion, one of them appears to be the status that the two superstars had on the team.

Both Leonard and George were believed by their teammates to have had the ability to choose the games they wanted to play and even to cancel practices. With Kawhi being a two-time NBA champion and two-time Finals MVP, his teammates reportedly accepted the special treatment that he received. But it was a different story with George, who had struggled in the playoffs prior to joining the Clippers.

Per Jovan Buha of The Athletic:

Teammates also believed that Leonard and George were able to pick and choose when they played. Not only did they sit out games entirely, but also at times they accepted or declined playing time in the moment. While star treatment can work in a locker room, and some of these practices aren’t necessarily unique to the Clippers, it resulted in a lack of buy-in from this particular group, league sources said.

This had a negative impact on the attitude of the Clippers players towards committing to a team effort, especially due to the treatment that George received.

Teammates had a level of acceptance of Leonard’s preferential treatment, as his status as a two-time champion and two-time Finals MVP — the then-reigning Finals MVP, at that — was indisputable. But George’s treatment was more of an issue within the locker room, league sources said. George, while a perennial All-Star and All-NBA candidate, didn’t carry the same cachet with his teammates. There was a sentiment among certain teammates of, “What have you accomplished in the playoffs?” multiple league sources said.