Paul George grew up rooting for the Los Angeles Clippers and he loves playing close to home.
He made it clear Friday where he sees his NBA future, saying, “I want to retire a Clipper.”
“This is where my heart is and I’m happy,” he said.
George’s first season back home ended in disappointment, with the Clippers blowing a 3-1 lead against Denver and losing in the second round of the playoffs. He averaged 21.5 points and 5.7 rebounds during the abbreviated season.
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George wasn’t able to train normally during the 2019 offseason or participate in his first training camp with the Clippers after shoulder surgeries. He missed the first 11 games of the season, too.
“I’m my toughest critic,” he said. “I know what’s not good, what’s unacceptable. Last year was an unacceptable year for me. I know that.”
George and teammate Kawhi Leonard can become free agents after the upcoming season. New Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said he expects both players to be with the team for a long time.
The team doesn't have to wait until next summer with George; it could sign him to an extension before then.
“I'm committed,” he said.
While declaring his loyalty to the franchise, George also took the opportunity to clarify comments he made earlier this week on the “All That Smoke” podcast. He said the Clippers weren't prepared enough against Denver and former coach Doc Rivers didn't utilize George's strengths in the series.
Rivers was fired after the team's early exit and now coaches Philadelphia; Lue was elevated from Rivers' top assistant to being head coach.
“I do want to clear it up because the notion out there is I don’t respect Doc and I’m putting the blame on Doc,” George said Friday. “I respect Doc. I think Doc is a helluva motivator and coach. It doesn’t mean I agree with everything that was done. They played harder than us and ultimately got past us.”
George cited inconsistency as the reason for much of what went wrong last season — lack of time together in practice, injuries and players leaving the bubble in Florida for personal reasons.
“I wasn’t myself. I wasn’t able to do the things I was good at or I was comfortable with because my shoulders weren’t at peak performance,” he said.
But things are different now. George said his body feels good again and he's been putting a lot of hours in on the court.
“I knew last year was a rough year for me. The good thing about that is I’m only 30, I still got a lot of years in the tank,” he said. “It gave me a big motivation going into this season. I’m ready to dive right into this and give everything I have.”
Leonard is, too, describing himself as “definitely motivated.”
“Physically, I feel good. I want to get back out there,” he said. “The road to a championship is hard. I love the process.”
The Clippers will test themselves right out of the gate, playing the NBA champion Lakers as the visiting team at Staples Center in the season opener on Dec. 22.
George and Leonard will be surrounded by a changed supporting cast. Montrezl Harrell, the Sixth Man of the Year, signed with the Lakers and JaMychal Green went to Denver. The Clippers added free agent Serge Ibaka, who played with Leonard in Toronto, and Luke Kennard.
“We brought in some good talents, some good veterans,” Leonard said. “Serge will be great for us. He'll be a rim protector, he’s been in big moments before and can shoot the ball.”
The Clippers brought in George and Leonard to win a championship, something that has eluded the franchise throughout its existence. They're determined to write a different ending in year two.
“Our ultimate goal is just make sure this is a winning environment,” George said. “Then everything will iron itself out.”