Paul George thinks about the ending and wants to become a champion before he’s done

Playa Vista, CA – October 02: Paul George poses for a portrait at LA Clippers Media Day on Monday, October 2, 2023 in Playa Vista, CA. (Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times)

Clippers star Paul George enters his 14th season hoping for the only thing missing from his All-NBA resume: a first championship. (Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times)

Paul George began to think about his end NBA career, and how it would be remembered two years ago. He knows exactly what triggered it.

Parents of two daughters, George and his wife Daniela welcomed a son in the weeks leading up to the 2021/22 season, and from the start George envisioned a future in which the boy who bore his name could pursue his career path . The clues were found in the photo George posted on social media when he announced the birth: the newborn’s eyes are closed, a hat is hanging over one ear, his left hand is resting on a basketball he is resting on the lap has. Next to it is a pair of wooden blocks with the numbers 1 and 3, his father’s jersey number.

“It just started moving towards, ‘What am I leaving behind?’ to postpone,” said George. “Ultimately I want him to say, ‘Yo, my dad is a champion.’ I know what he says is gold.’”

His father will be remembered as a lightly recruited winger from Palmdale who transformed himself into a star, making four All-Defense teams, six All-NBA teams, eight All-Star teams and nine-figure salary and endorsement deals. Top recruits like AJ Dybantsa and draft picks like Brandon Miller point to George as a role model for their playing styles. When George retires, he will leave behind a rich legacy.

“But in terms of the bigger picture and what we’re playing for, all the things I’ve had to endure physically, you know I have nothing to show for it physically,” he said.

Enters his 14th and fifth season with the Clippers alongside fellow All-Star forward Kawhi Leonarda duo that should finally earn it Franchise the title This has eluded him for five decades, George has yet to win a championship, the one thing he says will make all the surgeries and effort of the last decade and more worth it.

Russell Westbrook greets Clippers teammate Paul George and his son Paul Vuk during media day.

“My legacy here simply cannot be finished,” he told the Times. “I think it’s injury prone in a lot of ways and not being able to finish. So I can’t even say that I never go into a summer and ask myself, “Hey, what do I need to work on to get better, what do I need to do?”…I just have to try to find a way to persevere healthy .”

George knows what the Clippers know: As their season opener approaches on Wednesday, time is running out – at least for this squad. Four years after George and Leonard joined the Clippers In their prime, in their late 20s and with a championship window that seemed limitless, their time together borders on finite.

Although George and Leonard have spoken openly about their desire to remain with the Clippers, both only have this season left in their contracts, plus a player option for 2024-25. How much the team is willing to invest in the duo is being asked across the NBA after one or both ended each of the last three seasons with injuries.

Safety could hinge on production, and the Clippers left training camp optimistic that they are prepared to see the best version of their stars and the team as a whole since 2021. They attribute this to George and Leonard being healthy at the start of training camp for the first time in three seasons and also a change in their own mindset.

“It’s different day and night, just in terms of the intensity in training camp,” guard Norman Powell said.

Players reject any suggestion they didn’t take seriously last season, an idea They heard all summer After top basketball executive Lawrence Frank said in his season-ending address in April that the team needed to place more value on the regular season.

But in public statements and private conversations over the final three weeks of practice, various Clippers acknowledged the cracks that marred last season’s foundation long before George and Leonard’s knee injuries. Several team insiders were baffled by the lack of intensity during camp a year ago in Las Vegas.

Read more: Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are healthy: Clippers storylines to start the season

Referring to last season, Leonard mentioned that the team was “skipping steps.” It wasn’t like they were specifically talking about setting a championship goal; Because by focusing on April, May and June, they often overlooked the value of November, December and January.

This season, the Clippers haven’t shied away from naming their championship ambitions, but they’re starting with fiery training camp practices In Hawaii, they believe they have placed a greater emphasis on the months of work leading up to the playoffs.

“Last year when we were in the same spot we said, ‘We’re the favorites,’ and this year they don’t really talk about us like that,” said striker Nicolas Batum. “I think that could be a good thing.”

The positivity surrounding camp – notable only in contrast to the frustration that emanated from the front office, locker room and coaching staff after last season – was bolstered by Leonard’s full health and George’s “better state of mind.” Leonard stated.

“I don’t see that joking with him is unnecessary,” Leonard said.

“It just comes down to the fact that I didn’t win anything, you know what I mean?” George said. “And I’m not happy with that. I shouldn’t be moping around here and making jokes every second. I shouldn’t behave like that. I’m pretty focused. I know what I expect from this season, I know what I expect from this group and for me, man, if we fall short, I want to at least have the opportunity to say that we fell short if we “Don’t win anything instead of giving him no chance.”

Philadelphia's James Harden throws his hands out as he reacts to a shot.

The question is how long this squad will have to prove itself. With so much pressure on the Clippers to get out of one loaded Western Conference and secure a first appearance in the NBA Finals, rival scouts believe there is a gap between their talent level and that of reigning champions Denver, Phoenix and the Lakers. That’s why the Clippers remain interested in trading disgruntled Philadelphia guard James Harden if the price is right.

“I don’t think they need it, but it would add talent,” said Doc Rivers, the Clippers’ coach from 2013 to 2020, who coached Harden last season and is now an ESPN analyst. “If you know what I mean, adding talent isn’t always easy. They play a style, they do a lot of iso stuff with Kawhi and then with PG, so if you look at James and James’ style, it fits. But if there is a third man stopping the ball, would that be the case? good or bad? I’m not sure.”

But questions about fit — “Who will sacrifice, which would be fascinating,” one league executive said — and game plan only matter if the Clippers stay healthy.

“It’s not that it’s a trick question; You have to play,” Rivers said. When it comes to health and chemistry, “the window is still open.”

Coach Tyronn Lue said he’s not thinking about how much longer. But many within the Clippers do, including George, according to his close friend, Denver guard Reggie Jackson.

“With every year that goes by, even in our chats throughout the summer or in group chats, on the phone, with friends, maybe it just appears out of nowhere, you notice it sticks in your mind in a way, that he has definitely achieved something “A lot – one of the greatest players in our league who has incredible talent that is second to none,” Jackson said. “There’s nothing he hasn’t done in his head, except that’s the biggest thing he always talks about: He wants to win a championship.”

Read more: NBA Roundtable: 2023-24 Season Preview and Prediction

Jackson said George was the first person to text him in June after he won his first championship in Denver. His congratulatory text began with “What’s up, champion?” It is the signifier that George wants to call himself, the legacy he wants to leave behind.

When the Clippers started the season with media day this month, George stood at the podium while his son, now a curly-haired 2-year-old sucking on a lollipop, sat on his lap. That began a season he hopes will be remembered forever.

“I feel like things are important at this point, and I don’t want to say that wasn’t the case in the years leading up to this season or up to this point, but my numbers run out at some point and it’s just filling still strong on what I have yet to finish,” said George. “I haven’t won it yet. If I have an influence on how the whole thing turns out for me, then I will give it my best, and that’s exactly what’s important to me.”

Paul George speaks to reporters during media day while his son Paul Vuk sits on his lap.

Paul George speaks to reporters during media day while his son Paul Vuk sits on his lap. (Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times)

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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