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Darius Miles and Maurice Taylor have high praise for the Clippers

Darius Miles and Maurice Taylor have high praise for the Clippers

The Los Angeles Clippers have gotten their 2022-23 season off to a great start with a 103-97 win over their local rival, the Lakers, and everybody played a part.

In his first game since June 2021, Kawhi Leonard produced 14 points and 7 rebounds off the bench in 21 minutes. In another return over 18 months in the making, John Wall added 15 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists in 24 minutes.

Paul George registered a 15-point, 10-rebound double-double to go along with 4 dimes, Marcus Morris dropped 14 points and Ivica Zubac had his own double-double with 14 points and 17 boards.

Entering this year, there was a multitude of questions hovering over the entire Clippers organization:

  • How will Kawhi Leonard look after missing the entire last season? Did he put on too much muscle? How will load management be handled with him this season?
  • How will the acquisition of John Wall work after he missed almost two years of action? Will the Clippers be getting the old John Wall or just an older John Wall?
  • How will Paul George fare after also coming off of an injury that derailed what was a very productive season in 2021-22?

I caught up with two former Clippers greats, Darius Miles and Maurice Taylor, to explore these questions and much more.

Darius Miles

Etan Thomas: The Clippers really looked good in their first few games. A lot of people are saying they could win it all. How good do they look to you?

Darius Miles: "I don’t wanna jump out there too quickly; it’s still early, but I think they look really good. Seeing the pieces, the depth, having Kawhi back, PG. I’m so excited for John Wall. He’s always been one of my favorites. I saw him get a little frustrated there at the end against the Lakers. This is a different kind of role; he wanted the ball in his hands at the end like he was back in D.C. So he is adjusting to the new role, and I think it’s gonna be just fine."

Etan: One of the things with John Wall people were wondering was if he can he get back to the Washington Wizards-level version of himself on the court after sitting out two seasons, but he looks good to me so far. 

Miles: "He definitely looks good, I really want John to embrace this new role because if he does, the sky's the limit. And he’s been saying all the right things. I heard one interview and he kept saying, 'I’m so excited that I don’t have to do it myself.' So he has to really embrace the fact that, sometimes down the stretch, you’re not going to have the ball in your hands. You may have to go to the corner and spot up and let Kawhi and PG run this two-man game like they were doing against the Lakers. And sometimes, they may need (John) to speed dribble it up and initiate the offense, but other times it may be something different. And he just has to fully embrace the different times, whatever they are, because really, he can — and I believe will — be vital for this team."

Etan: You know, I’m really rooting for PG to have a great year. He has taken a lot of criticism really since the Bubble season.

Miles: "I think last season while Kawhi was out, he really just put his head down and went to work. He wasn’t saying much, wasn’t getting into too much, and, before the injury, he was having a great season. I think this year is gonna be the same thing. He came out and said, 'Yeah this is Kawhi’s team, so I’m not gonna let the media play that game with us of whose team it is.' He squashed all that. 'This is Kawhi’s team, and that’s going to go a long way for us.' Because it cuts down on the chatter, you know?"

Etan: Definitely, like how Magic Johnson did with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Miles: "Exactly, just so there’s no discussion. I’m very, very excited for the Clippers. I wanna see the Clippers win a chip in L.A. Now, of course we don’t have the ridiculous number of championships like the Lakers have, but this year, I think this team could really pull it off. And we’re not talking about the best team in L.A. — we already got that. We’re talking about winning it all."

Etan: Let’s stay on PG for a minute. Why do you think he receives so much criticism? He was really getting criticized heavily I thought.

Miles: "That’s just this day and age. As soon as someone sees a vulnerable spot, they jump on it. That’s just how it is unfortunately."

Etan: It’s interesting though because PG talked about struggling with his mental health while in the Bubble, and it was like, people got mad at him. Other players like Kevin Love and DeMar DeRozan talked about their mental health, and they were praised for their courage, given awards and sitting on panels. I mean, PG just announced not long ago that he was giving away $3 million in free therapy.

I just co-wrote Emerald Garner’s book (Eric Garner’s daughter), "Finding My Voice," and she talked about how costly therapy is and how much her entire family should’ve had it for their mental health, and he is giving away $3 million of free mental health therapy for people!

Miles: "Yeah, how could anyone be mad at that? I don’t know. I never really understood it myself. I’m happy when any athlete has the courage to talk about their mental health because them saying that gives other people the comfort that they don’t have to be ashamed. So yeah, I agree with you. It should’ve been praised not mocked."

Etan: You mentioned Russell Westbrook earlier, and that’s my guy. I played with him in OKC for a year, but they got him in the matrix right now, nonstop criticism. It’s like he is taking the heat for a poorly-constructed team.

Miles: "Man, I love Westbrook. And I’m glad [Charles] Barkley said something about it. But people don’t understand how the slander, the politics of the game, the wrong situation or construction of a team, like you said, how that can take away someone’s love for the game, and it looks like that with Westbrook. His body language, that 'lion' that makes Westbrook, Westbrook you know? Now, he’s second-guessing himself; not sure if he should pass or shoot, just everything is off. I hate to see my man go through this."

Etan: So last question, there have been built-up expectations before for the Clippers. The year in the Bubble and the season before the Bubble, everyone was waiting for them to match up with the Lakers. It seemed like those years could’ve been the Clippers' years as well. And I know a lot of teams always say this, but this season, it does really feel like this could be the Clippers year to win it all.

Miles: "I hear you. I just don’t want to get too ahead of myself — especially with guys coming off of injuries — but then, we came out the gate looking really good this year. And we have a really deep bench, like 10-11 deep. I’m super excited for this season, but I don’t wanna jump out there too soon. I appreciate the support from Barkley, but not yet. But do I feel like we could be a contender? Absolutely.

"Also, we gotta see what happens with Kawhi’s injury and his load management, and if that is a plus or a minus. I love the team, love the coach, Ty Lue; they have the team built to win the championship. They have the ability to beat any team — Golden State, Portland, Phoenix, Denver, anyone in the West or the East. Of course a lot has to go right, but yes, I’m excited. (It's) gonna be a great year for us."

Maurice Taylor 

Etan Thomas: How good can the Clippers be this season? 

Maurice Taylor: "I think they could be really good, top-tier even. If you look at how the team is constructed, they really have everything you need in today’s game. They’re a really good defensive team, they can run, they can shoot threes, they’re athletic. They can play iso ball, but don’t have to rely on iso ball in order to be productive. And they have an incredibly deep bench. And they’re big. They had a lineup out there with [Nic] Batum, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George; those are 6-6 to 6-8 wing players. And for Kawhi and Paul George to be the elite defenders they are, what other team has guys that size who can all defend and score at that level at the same time?

Etan: And how much do you think John Wall can help this team? Here in D.C., we’re all rooting for him to do well. I interviewed his former teammate Marcin Gortat, who also echoed those sentiments, especially taking into consideration everything he went through that he detailed over the summer. But how great of an addition was Wall to this team? 

Taylor: "I don’t understand why there weren’t more teams in line to get John Wall, especially contenders. The only knock against him was that he hasn’t played in two seasons for whatever reason — still not sure what was going on in Houston — but he looks good so far. He looked quick. He didn’t look like he lost a step at all, which was what so many people were worried about. But I was definitely impressed. If he can be that for us, I don’t see anyone in the East who would be able to stop us if we make it to the Finals.

Etan: Yeah I saw Charles Barkley picked the Clippers to win it all and doubled down after the game against the Lakers. So he is sticking with his pick. He may have even said, "GUARANTEED!" (Laughing)

Taylor: "Well, I’m not going that far (laughing). But remember, I was with the Clippers during the down years. The bad old days (laughing). So for us, the guys I talk to from my era, it’s amazing to be discussing the Clippers in terms of championship favorites. But yes, they could definitely win it all this season."

Etan: I agree, and does T-Lue get enough credit for his coaching? Especially the way he was able to keep the team together last season when Kawhi was out. I know he was my former teammate, so I may be a little biased, but I do think he doesn’t get the recognition he should for the job he has done coaching. 

Taylor: "I think he is definitely underrated. In today’s NBA, the notion is almost that you don’t really need a coach because of the level of talent. We heard that when he took over in Cleveland and was coaching LeBron [James]. You heard that in Brooklyn with Steve Nash..."

Etan: Well, that may not be the best example because of how disgruntled it seems Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are with Steve Nash, but continue.

Taylor: "Yeah that’s true. But, point being, I think good coaches sometimes fall through the cracks because players are so good now. But in reality, coaching is the X-factor for each team. That’s why Miami was so good, that’s why Boston with Ime Udoka overachieved the way they did last season. But to answer your question, no, Ty Lue definitely doesn’t get the credit he deserved, and for the very reason you mentioned. He held everything together while his star player was out for the entire season. And he really pieced together a team. Like, they have a great unit. If you look at the Lakers, they just have a bunch of guys who got signed together. That’s a pickup game, what the Lakers have."

Etan: And no proven shooters. They have some developing shooters, but they need proven shooters who can contribute immediately, right? 

Taylor: "Absolutely, I don’t know what they’re thinking over there, but that’s not my problem. We’re constructed as a complete team, and you have to give credit to Steve Ballmer — when you have a team governor who goes all out for his team? I mean, the Clippers haven’t had that in history, at least not while I was there. We’re in arguably the best market in the league, so to have an organization that’s willing to invest in their players and open their checkbooks the way Steve Ballmer is, it’s going to be attractive to free agents to come to the Clippers. And they’re making moves to win the whole thing. They’re not penny-pinching or trying to spend the bare minimum. They are investing the way a team is supposed to."

Etan: If only someone could’ve recorded Donald Sterling earlier while you were there (laughing).

Taylor: "Man, don’t get me started (laughing). It’s a night and day difference, but that’s why they are in the position they are in. People always say players make the team, and that’s true, but the ownership, the way the organization is run makes all the difference. So a lot of this credit, like I said, has to go to Steve Ballmer."

Etan: I hear you, so last question: Kawhi Leonard. I don’t know how they’re going to do with the load management for the entire season. Against the Lakers he came off the bench well into the second quarter. I’m sure that’s not going to be the strategy for the entire season, but how good did Kawhi Leonard look to you? 

Taylor: "He looked really good. He moved well. With wing guys, when they come back from injury, you wanna see how their lateral movement is, if they have that pop back, and he had all of that. He definitely looked strong. And he’s only going to get better as the season progresses. But the thing I am a little concerned with is the very load management (subject) you mentioned.

"A team can load management themselves right out of the playoffs if they’re not careful. Is it going to get to a point where he’s back and he’s at full strength and he is their main guy this season? Or is it going to be an ongoing situation where, 'Okay, we have a back-to-back, we’re going to rest him this second game?' If you do that enough times, that could change the dynamic of your playoff run or position. Because Golden State doesn’t have any load management players, and that’s who you have to be eyeing on the way to the Finals. So I am a little concerned, to be honest. But, other than that, things look very good for the Clippers this season."

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