Clippers’ Paul George has embraced leadership role

His voice has become direct, if not a bit louder. His words are deliberate, and the message is clear. Paul George wants a chance at a championship and he’s not afraid to say it.

In the past, George has shown his leadership through his actions. The 6-foot-8 small forward stepped up when teammate Kawhi Leonard went down in the 2021 playoffs and stayed the course during last season without Leonard until an elbow injury sidelined him for more than three months.

But no more. The Clippers, who open the season against the Lakers on Thursday night, are among the favorites to win their first NBA title, a fact that hasn’t escaped George. So, he has taken it upon himself to be a vocal leader to get the Clippers to the finish.

“It’s a certain level and expectation that you want out of a group when you have a legitimate chance to win it,” said George, a seven-time All-Star. “I just want to make sure we are mindful of that, every practice day, every game day, like what is at stake here. That is why I have been vocal.

“I have been doing it by my actions, trying to be more vocal. I just don’t want to lose an opportunity, and we all don’t want to lose an opportunity that we have in front of us. There’s a very good chance for us to go and win it. And that is just how I am going to approach this year.”

His teammates have noticed the change in George this year, from his efforts to organize offseason workouts/get-togethers in Santa Barbara and San Diego to speaking up when things go awry on the court. Guard Reggie Jackson said these are things the team needs.

“I think he’s just getting more comfortable with himself, getting more comfortable with his voice, vocalizing what he sees on the court,” Jackson said. “He’s had probably less of a fear of talking to guys and worrying about their feelings.”

Jackson said George started to speak up during preseason scrimmages and practices; sometimes the message was harsh.

“Shoot, even times he’s calling me out,” Jackson said, “And I’m like ‘Oh snap.’ I don’t know if I like it. But I am definitely very appreciative of it because we need it, especially to get where we want to be, so that’s been fun to watch.”

Center Ivica Zubac has watched George emerge slowly over the past three years into a role that was needed because Leonard, the perceived leader because of his status, is so reserved.

Zubac said George pushes his teammates to improve, especially if the players are not performing to his expectations.

“PG has been one of the leaders since he got here. (But) he kept getting louder,” Zubac said. “He feels a lot more comfortable now than when he came here. He is our leader on the floor. We follow him. He leads by example and has become more vocal since last year. He is really good in that role.”

Yet, when it comes to playing, George is content to defer to Leonard when it comes to scoring in the two-wing system. He doesn’t need any validation, pats on the back or “atta boy” compliments. He said he knows what he can do with the ball on any given night and how to make his teammates better.

“So, Kawhi is the number one, and I am totally fine with that,” George said. “I think I try to, I guess, complement him with being able to take the load off him.

“Everybody says, ‘Kawhi, you are 1 and 1, (or) 1A, 1B.’ I’ll publicly say, I’m the two. Kawhi’s the one. I’m the two. So that part we nipped in the bud. Like there’s no ego when it comes to that.”

Veteran forward Marcus Morris Sr. said that while the sentiment from George is nice, it’s needless because “they both can play. They’re both superstars, both can take over games, both are great players to me. It’s good to have them both.”

Leonard said the two stars have a genuine relationship, sharing a closeness that began in 2019 and extends beyond the court. The two, along with guard John Wall, attended Game 1 of the National League Championship Series between the San Diego Padres and Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday.

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“We’re both unselfish, so I mean I feel like if you go on the floor and somebody’s passing the ball, just moving it, you’ll get that continuity back going easily,” Leonard said. “My 12th year, his 13th year … we’ve been through this before, so I feel like just having those years under our belt and obviously, like I said, we have a genuine relationship, and it just carries over.”

They also share a desire to win. For Leonard, an NBA championship would be his second, having won in Toronto. For George, it would be his first.

“I think both of us kind of internally had a promise, I know I did for myself, to bring a championship here,” George said. “Then when you look at how close we were two years back, the year Kawhi got hurt, how close we were, I didn’t want to give everything – or leave anything on the table that I could have done more.

“We’ve been here. This core has kind of been here for years now, and when you look at the teams that win and are very successful, it’s teams that have been together and gel and connect. That’s kind of where my mindset was this summer, just stay together, build the chemistry, the camaraderie.”

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