LA Clippers' key focus is NBA crown, not Lakers

LOS ANGELES • At the end of their unveiling on Wednesday, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard were handed Clippers jerseys, No. 13 for George and No. 2 for Leonard.

As photographers jostled for position, coach Doc Rivers seized an early opportunity to fix a play, instructing George to stand to Leonard's left so that, when combined, their numbers read 213 - Los Angeles' primary area telephone code. Rivers appeared pleased with his handiwork.

They were all at Green Meadows Recreation Centre, just kilometres from the Staples Centre, where George and Leonard will try to lift the Clippers to become National Basketball Association champions and eclipse city rivals Lakers.

"We're not looking at the Battle of LA. We've got bigger goals in mind," George said at the duo's introductory press conference.

"We're not thinking about the Lakers shadow. We want to be holding that trophy and we'll build up Clipper Nation along the way."

Leonard, 28, made the biggest free agent signing this month by leaving the Toronto Raptors after leading them to the title, while George was obtained in a blockbuster trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder at Leonard's request.

"I'm on my next journey," Leonard said. "These guys have got a great future. Paul is a player I always wanted to play with. (We're) both LA guys. Played down the street from each other.

"We've got something special. I think we can make history."

The most excited person in the building was, however, Clippers owner Steve Ballmer. A video of his high-octane introduction at the press conference quickly became a social media sensation.

"I'm just fired up to be here today! Pretty cool! I'm pumped to say hello to Paul and Kawhi," he screamed, encouraging the audience to stand up and get excited.

"We have two guys that I am so excited to have. Two guys who are tough. I love the toughness."

The Clippers are second favourites in Caesar's Palace sportsbook for the title at 7-2, trailing only 3-1 Lakers, who boast LeBron James and Anthony Davis plus a host of solid support talent.

The Lakers have won 16 NBA titles but none since 2010 with retired star guard Kobe Bryant as the NBA Finals' Most Valuable Player.

Leonard instead chose a team who have never gone past the second round of the play-offs since being formed in 1970 as the Buffalo Braves. But in each of the past seven seasons, the Clippers won more games than their city rivals.

George, 29, hopes that, with both new boys being among the league's top defenders, the team will alter dynamics to bring more attention to two-way work than simply scoring prowess. He said: "What me and Kawhi can do is inspire the next generation, go out and play hard on both ends."

NYTIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 26, 2019, with the headline 'LA Clippers' key focus is NBA crown, not Lakers'. Print Edition | Subscribe