In a matter of days, the Western Conference found itself becoming a gauntlet once again. Just a week prior, the conference seemed wide open with a number of teams vying for a chance to make an appearance in the Finals; but with the craziness that is the trade deadline, teams found themselves re-tooling on the fly – one major team being the Los Angeles Clippers.
In the four seasons since Paul George has been a member of the Clippers, the franchise has been close but not close enough. Untimely injuries and tough stretches of play at the wrong time have been the biggest thorn in the side of the Clips but they hope to change that this year.
The biggest reason for that hope is the aforementioned Paul George. Despite battling injuries that have kept him out of the lineup at times this season, his play has been his usual perennial All-Star form, averaging over 23 points, over five assists, and six rebounds, all while adding point guard duties to his list of responsibilities. With a stretch of good health and new additions to the team, things are beginning to look up for the Clippers. Last week, PG made some time for us to discuss the current unfoldings in the NBA; and how he feels his squad ranks amongst the best in the Western Conference.
George also spoke on the new additions to the roster, his partnership with AT&T, one of the most impactful trades of his career, and more.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Can you talk to me about how your sponsorship with AT&T came together?
At this point, everyone knows my passion and love for the virtual world with gaming and augmented reality, so it came organically with my background; and where I am in my life. It was an easy flow with myself and AT&T.
I think about all of the partnerships you’ve had with gaming entities or technology-based companies; now you’re creating your own personal avatar with AT&T. How cool was it to do it alongside Vince Carter, who I’m sure you admired growing up?
Yeah, super dope. Vince Carter, obviously being a player that I grew up watching and idolized, it’s pretty surreal. Then to have your own avatar. You see it all the time with NBA 2K, but to see it in an augmented version was pretty dope. It was a pretty cool experience.
It’s kind of crazy you’re in year 13 now. I remember you being on the floor in that 2013 Eastern Conference Finals, going toe-to-toe with LeBron. It’s crazy how time flies. Eight-time All-Star, six-time All-NBA member, four-time All-Defensive team. When you look at your career, do you still have that pursuit or have a desire for more recognition, considering what you’ve accomplished in your career?
Yeah, that’s not really my focus. My flowers come from my peers, and that’s all I really care about. The people I compete against, the people that are in this business; the people that know what the grind is like and what it takes; as long as the respect is there. Nothing else really matters outside of that.
Has that always been the case? Or did you reach a point in your career where you were like, “f-it”?
As a young player, it was always wanting to be good enough to even receive flowers. That’s what was always driving me as a young player; just being good enough to get to that point, [where] people have to respect my game and respect the work I’ve put in. Now that I’ve done that, it’s just more about being proud of the [young version] that led me to the player that I am now.
Throughout your career, you’ve been able to be super resilient when it comes to bouncing back from injuries. We oftentimes see the toll that rehabbing can take on athletes, especially mentally. How have you been able to stay afloat and stay level-headed during those times when you’ve had to battle injuries?
It’s honestly just believing in the work. That’s the only way you’re going to get through it. Every injury is just a reminder of how you got to where you got to. I’ve become an All-Star just off the hard work, staying in the gym, and working on my body. Attacking it one day at a time, and ultimately I got back to where I wanted to get to it.
The trade deadline is a crazy day for everyone in the league, and in year 13, I’m sure it’s still a challenge in some regards. How do you navigate everything shifting and changing at the drop of a dime; especially losing teammates you’ve had strong relationships with; does it ever get any easier, or is it just one of those tough things about the league?
It never gets easy because you build a brotherhood and a camaraderie with guys who, in a blink of an eye, are gone, and then you’re on a whole new journey with new faces. It’s tough, especially this time around, with Reggie Jackson being one of my closest friends in the league and seeing him go; it’s tough. But it reverts back to knowing the business and knowing what we signed up for; it’s part of the game.
Is there a story throughout your career that you would say is the craziest deadline moment you’ve dealt with?
For me, it was when we traded George Hill when I was in Indiana; that was the one that was most impactful. Of course, it wasn’t the biggest trade of that summer, but for me, it was someone I was the closest with and the tightest with on the team, and it was a person that kept me motivated. He was a real brother; I spent a lot of time in my career with him, and I woke up to [news] of him being traded, literally. No heads up, no clue; I just found out over the internet.
As the Clippers shift and retool on the fly, the Western Conference has seemingly become a new monster overnight; in your opinion, where do you feel like the Clippers stand in the Western Conference?
I think our chances are as good as anyone’s. It’s a really competitive conference, especially with the trades that went down, but I think we stand right in the middle of the pack amongst the best teams. With the new additions, we gotta build that chemistry early; we’ve been playing better now that we’ve been more healthy. If we can stay healthy and continue to build chemistry with these new guys, I think we’re good. It’s not going to be easy, but I like our chances.