“Not really with all that extra (stuff).
“We’re here to get better, we’re here to win games, we’re not here to put on a show …
“Come in here, get your work done, (kick butt) and take names.”
Is that A) a description of Kawhi Leonard’s approach to basketball?
Or B) someone describing the current culture in the Clippers’ camp?
Technically, B. That’s Patrick Beverley speaking at the end of the Clippers’ run this season, when his surprising squad reached the playoffs and pushed the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors to six games in the opening round.
So, sure, the NBA issued a clear knock it off when it fined the Clippers $50,000 and called tampering on Coach Doc Rivers’ for his comments on ESPN comparing Leonard, the Toronto Raptors star and soon-to-be free agent, with Michael Jordan.
There are other ways for a team to send a message.
With or without Leonard in mind, the Clippers have compiled a no-nonsense collection of workers and competitors, a group that might align nicely with the newly minted Finals MVP whom they reportedly hope to persuade to return to his Southern California roots when free agency begins June 30.
This past season, the Clippers’ buy-in to the work-hard, kick-butt approach that Beverley described had a lot to do with the camaraderie that led to the team’s success. Now it could, conceivably, pay off this offseason.
“You have to understand who are the type of people you want in your program,” Lawrence Frank, the Clippers’ president of basketball operations, said during the playoffs. “Usually, like-minded people – they may have different personalities, you may have some who are more extroverted and some introverted, and some that react to different things – at their core, like to be around similarly focused people.
“So, high-character, competitive, tough, and over-yourself and into-the-team guys, usually they’re attracted to each other,” he continued. “And when you blend those personalities with an elite coach, you know, special things can happen.”
Leonard’s reputation is that of a low-maintenance, basketball-obsessed workaholic. As of 2016, he was driving the same ’97 Chevy Tahoe he piloted around the Inland Empire in high school, according to reporting by Lee Jenkins, the Sports Illustrated scribe since turned Clippers’ executive director of research and identity.
In a recent piece posted by “The Athletic,” Leonard’s former San Diego State teammates shared stories about the quiet, long-limbed forward beating everyone to the gym, outlasting them there and then, in off-hours, breaking into the place to shoot by lamplight.
In San Antonio, he maintained his rep as the guy staying so late refining his 3-pointer, his post moves, his jab-step, his jump hook, all those now-familiar weapons, that Gregg Popovich reportedly had to tell his assistant coaches to chase Leonard out of the gym.
In 2015, Leonard signed a five-year, $95 million contract with the San Antonio Spurs in an apartment complex conference room, in gym clothes because he was between the second of three shooting drills that summer day.
“My motivation wasn’t really to get a $95 million contract, you know?” Leonard told the San Diego Union-Tribune soon after. “I’m not out here just for the money. I want to be a great player. I don’t feel anything changed. I already had money and security. You definitely see a difference in some guys’ games when they do get paid. I’m trying to make sure I’m not that player.”
Leonard, a three-time All-Star, is now a two-time NBA champion after the Raptors held off the Warriors in Game 6 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night in Oakland. Leonard, who joined LeBron James and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only players in league history to win Finals MVP awards for two different franchises, averaged 30.5 points on 49 percent shooting this postseason for the Raptors. He also contributed 9.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.7 steals per game (while remaining non-committal about his future) as he led Toronto to its first Finals appearance in his first season with the team.
So, sure, that’s excellent, but don’t expect Leonard even to consider taking his foot off the gas.
“All I want to do is get better,” he said in a 2015 NBA.com story. “I love to play this game. It’s all that I ever really wanted to do and now that I’m doing it in the NBA, I want to be as good as possible.”
The Clippers also have such single-minded basketball devotees, including point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, a rookie starter this season who too has to be forced off the floor on occasion.
“He just is basketball,” Natalie Nakase, a Clippers player development coach, said of Gilgeous-Alexander last season. “I remember working with him in the summer at a camp and we would have to kick him off, like, ‘Shai, we gotta go home.’ ‘Yeah, but one more!’ And then 15 minutes more, I’m like, ‘Shai we gotta go. We gotta take the shoes off.’ ”
Landry Shamet, another rookie guard, is so serious about putting in the work, he’s adopted a “Never Cheated” motto that adorns his cell phone’s lock screen, as well as a matching T-shirt line.
“The ‘Never Cheated’ mantra of mine, over the past couple years it’s something I feel like I’ve always been one to hold myself accountable and do the right thing, and not cut corners and cheat,” said Shamet, who has joined Gilgeous-Alexander and Beverley, among a handful of others working on their games at the Clippers’ training facility in recent days.
“If you control what you can control and do the right thing all the time, you can expect good things to come to you in return.”
You can sense Beverley, a free agent whose blazing competitiveness set the tenor for the Clippers’ organization, nodding his approval.
“We got one agenda, and that’s to win a basketball game,” Beverley explained at season’s end. “It’s not to chase stats, it’s not who’s Batman or Robin. We’re here to win basketball games and that was the most important goal this year.
“Hopefully,” he added, “we changed the culture of the NBA. It’s OK to be high-maintenance and everything, but that doesn’t mean you have to be. You can be a blue-collar worker and still be successful, and hopefully Shai and (Jerome Robinson) and Landry and (Ivica Zubac), they saw.”
Perhaps someone else saw too?
“The culture is right,” Rivers said during his exit interview with reporters in April. “We know that we’re not going to have the exact team that we had last year, but we also know that we can change our team and still have the right culture and the same culture.
“We’re going to make the right choice, too,” Rivers added. “We’re not just going to spend money. Obviously, there’s a lot of guys out there. If we get the ones we want, we’ll use it. If not, we’ll just keep building away.”
“Not really with all that extra (stuff).