LOS ANGELES — 10:53 p.m on July 5. That’s when people on the west coast got the notification that Kawhi Leonard had committed to signing with the L.A. Clippers. For those that were on the east coast that night like Landry Shamet, it came a little later.
“I was asleep, woke up and my phone was blowing up. I thought I got traded,” the sophomore guard said at Clippers media day on Sunday. “Because I’ve been traded before, I know what that feels like: Phone starting blowing up at 2:30 in the morning.”
At 10:55 p.m. while Shamet was still asleep, it was reported that the Clippers were also acquiring six-time All-Star Paul George, giving them arguably the most formidable defensive pairing in the NBA. Those two minutes changed the landscape of the league and made the Clippers immediate title favorites, but those two minutes were also just the early beginnings of what could be an historic season for the team.
On Monday, the Clippers will start their quest to bring the franchise its first championship since they relocated to Los Angeles in 1984. This time last year, a championship didn’t seem like it was on the horizon for the Clippers, who lost DeAndre Jordan to the Dallas Mavericks in free agency and had moved on from Chris Paul and Blake Griffin in the years before, thus breaking up the once promising Lob City core. In fact, playoffs weren’t even seen as a certainty in February, when the Clippers traded their leading scorer, Tobias Harris, to the Philadelphia 76ers for a rookie shooting guard in Shamet, the expiring contracts of Wilson Chandler and Mike Muscala, and two first-round picks.
But due to some creative re-tooling by the team’s front office — led by general manager Michael Winger — and a clinic in coaching by Doc Rivers in the second half of the season, the Clippers made the playoffs, took the Golden State Warriors to six games and established themselves as a premier free agent destination. This season, with George and Leonard, the Clippers won’t be underdogs by any stretch of the imagination, but they plan to go about their business the same way they did last season, when the closest thing they had to a star was three-time Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams.
“I think it’s important for us to maintain that mindset,” Williams said. “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 my mindset changes, either.”
Beverley agreed with Williams, saying that the Clippers are going to bring the same scrappiness this season, “but on steroids.” However, instead of boasting about the Clippers are the best team in Los Angeles — like he did before the season started last summer — Beverley believes the best way to manage expectations is by producing on the court, and he’s confident in his team’s ability to do that.
“I’m going to be honest, we have a really good team. Everyone here knows that but it starts tomorrow. I’m going to take the pressure off of everyone right now: We’re not going to talk about championships, we’re not going to talk about any of that right now. We’re going to talk about one day at a time and that starts with media day,” Beverley said. “Tomorrow it’s time for business.”
The Clippers may have some bumps and bruises along the way with George expected to be sidelined for the first few weeks of the season, prolonging the real start of the team building that much needed chemistry, and new expectations hovering over the locker room, but they seem ready for whatever comes next.