Paul George isn’t having a stellar offseason. A Nowitzkian sojourn to the Outback is off the table in the middle of a pandemic, but just shutting up is easier than ever these days. I’m writing unhinged longhand legal pad Christmas letters to friends this year, because to them my existence has been little more than a rumor since March. After you wash out of the playoffs in mortifying fashion, it’s best to go away for a while. Let the media train its squirrel-brained fascination on a different subject, maybe have your people circulate a generic pre-training camp story about how you’ve locked yourself in the gym and achieved negative body fat. “All he’s done since that last game is watch Gladiator and get shots up,” longtime trainer Zip Mayweather tells Bleacher Report. “I’ve never seen him like this.”
P.G. has employed an unconventional strategy of complaining and relitigation, and it’s making him look like a vain doofus. He recently appeared on Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes’s podcast and said two things that were almost immediately proven false.
First, he claimed that Doc Rivers didn’t use him correctly: “Doc was trying to play me as a Ray Allen or a J.J. Redick, all pin-downs. I can do it, but that ain't my game. I need some flow, I need some mixes of pick-and-rolls, I need some post ups, just different touches… that last season was just hard.” The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor, leaning on about two minutes of research, pointed out that George finished a career-high 33 percent of his plays last year using the pick-and-roll. In other words, he empirically was not running around screens and taking catch-and-shoots all game. He got plenty of different types of touches, and while his scoring numbers weren’t spectacular, that likely had more to do with his being banged up and a bit of a sporadic presence in the lineup than the machinations of the Clipper offense.
George also said that the team didn’t practice enough. (The actual quote is “we didn’t practice the whole year,” but we can assume he’s not being totally literal.) He then went on to make a fine point that the Clippers’ roster was newly assembled and most of the guys didn’t know each other that well. One of the useful things about practice is that you can argue in private. When you yell at a teammate, you’re not embarrassing them in front of TV cameras and 18,000 fans. You can work stuff out and build understanding in a way that’s close to impossible in the middle of a game. Fair enough, Paul George! The problem with his gripe is that, according to a report in The Athletic, P.G. and Kawhi effectively got to decide the Clippers’ practice schedule and they kept cancelling practices. Maybe that’s George implicitly arguing that Kawhi was to blame for all that quality time the Clips didn’t spend together, but it’s not like the coaching staff simply didn’t think practice was important.
Asked about George’s comments, Doc Rivers walked a fine line between diplomacy and telling his former player to hush: “I enjoyed coaching him. So, not a lot to say there. Ty Lue was sitting right next to me. So [P.G.] better hope it’s not adjustments. It ain’t going to be much different. Listen, we lost the game, and I think everybody needs to take ownership. Obviously, we can always do better. Players can play better. As far as I'm concerned, I'll leave it there."
Doc did not, for the record, do a great job in the games that preceded the Clippers’ playoff exit against the Nuggets. His analytics people were begging him to stop playing Montrezl Harrell, who was getting killed by Denver’s front line, and he’s not the type of coach who’s going to make inspired mid-series tweaks like Nick Nurse or Erik Spoelstra. But it’s so easy, as Doc does in the above quote, to “take ownership” of your failure. Hey, we didn’t get it done and everybody is at fault, myself included. You say that to reporters, and then you either put in the work to improve or just go home get drunk. Holding yourself publicly accountable takes as much effort as turning off the lights as you leave a room.
This is not to confuse good PR with anything that happens in the weight room or the practice court. It wouldn’t make a lot of sense to do this, but you can shirk responsibility in the media while being diligent and self-critical behind the scenes. For all we know, in between cornballing it up every time someone asks him a question, Paul George has been training harder than anybody else in the league and is primed to make an MVP push. But the fact is dude had 10 points, two assists, and five turnovers in Game 7 against the Nuggets. It wasn’t the offense or the coaches; he just had a terrible performance. To grumble about practice time, after a failure that obvious and embarrassing, indicates a stubbornness that, at the very best, is going to alienate the people around you. They’re going to wonder what planet you’re living on, and if you understand that the team’s predicament, given that you’re the second-best player on the roster, is your fault as much as anybody else’s.
“The attitude around here is guys are pissed off,” Patrick Beverley said on Sunday morning, before the Clippers’ first training camp practice. “Which is good. We should be extra pissed off after our exit last year in the playoffs.” Pat Bev is always pissed off about something or other, so he’s perhaps not the best emotional thermometer, but it tracks that everybody in a Clipper uniform is upset. Paul George included. But pissed off about what, and at whom? If he’s not at least a little bit mad at himself, he might as well be catatonic, for all the good his anger toward everybody besides Playoff P will do.
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