How Norman Powell and Tyronn Lue developed a Clippers bond
NEW YORK –
They had been in each other’s orbits for three years in the playoff battle between Cleveland and Toronto. They had mutual NBA friends. And during the 2020 NBA bubble, they were having a conversation about passing when the Clippers assistant drew the Toronto guard.
There was familiarity between Tyronn Lue and Norman Powell when they joined the Clippers last season, but being familiar with someone is not the same as being coached by them. Once Powell arrived by trade from Portland, their time to learn how to work together was unexpectedly cut short by a foot injury that cost Powell two months.
The deepening of their relationship will have to wait until the off-season in Las Vegas, where they both have a home. Powell, a workaholic, started summer training as early as 6 in the morning and tried to persuade Lue to come down, but the coach is not early. And so the two often meet somewhere else: Lue’s favorite craps table in his favorite high-end casino on the city’s famous Strip.
Powell liked to go to the casino early in the evening to see if the coach was playing. If we were to find him near the end of the standings where a crowd usually forms around Lue, Powell would either play with Lue or talk to Lue while the coach plays.
“T-Lue is an easy going guy, he wasn’t really going deep or trying to figure out how the next year was going, just talking here and there and seeing him in Vegas, going out with him, building more friendships and tie away from basketball, that’s how I saw it and I enjoyed it,” Powell said.
Dealing with Powell could be seen as a gamble – selling a player who was Portland’s leading scorer when he came off the bench to back up Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, taking a significant hit on the -team tax bill. On Saturday, the one-year anniversary of his business, Powell continued to show why he paid.
The 6-foot-3 San Diego Lincoln High and UCLA guard scored 24 points in the overtime win over New York. His right-handed dunk over Knicks forward Julius Randle highlighted a stretch of games in which Powell became the kind of offensive force the Clippers hoped for a year ago.
From a difficult shootout earlier in the season, confusion about his role as he switched between starter and reserve, followed by a groin injury in late November that sidelined him for 10 games when he was still gaining momentum, Powell established a set pace in which he will see him compete g[all-unurtas-sittra;eltas-senatal-NBAMinnmindurritornaminninjurylejnl-aħħarta’DiċembruPowellgħamel46%tat-three-pointstiegħuu51%tat-tiritotalitiegħufilwaqtlikellumedjata’186puntil-ogħlamedjata’kwalunkwegwardjanta’riservamatuldakil-medda
Powell, qal sieħbu Leonard, “rebaħ ħafna logħob għalina.”
“Ovvjament, kont eċċitati li ġejt hawn u dak kollu li jinvolvi, li lura LA u li nkun parti mit-tim,” qal Powell. “Onestament, lanqas biss ħsibt li kienet se tkun sena [since the trade] But it’s been a fun year, being part of the organization and the boys, feeling more comfortable and just helping the team.”
Long before Lue coached him, he knew Powell could score. What he has learned about Powell this season is that he responds to a challenge.
“For the last month we have been challenging him to make the right plays, get to the paint and shoot for Nico [Batum] and Mark [Morris] and Luke [Kennard] and guys like it when it goes downhill,” Lue said. “He did a lot better than that.
“…You don’t just have 30 points and zero [assists] zero [rebounds]. Three or four assists, three or four rebounds. He’s developed into a better player and fits into our system and gets what we want from him every night and he’s been really good for us.”
The next step for Powell: not only influence the games as part of the reserve, but share the pitch with Leonard and George. Thursday’s fourth quarter meltdown in a loss to Milwaukee showed how much work we still have. With the offensive going entirely from Leonard and George, Powell did not shoot in the last 4 minutes and 16 seconds.
“It’s on me,” Lue said. “I just need to figure out when you’re both down with Norm, just include him in the game.”
Although Powell worked with Leonard on Toronto’s 2019 championship team, that Raptors’ offense ran and paced while the Clippers worked more slowly to identify and exploit gaps, Leonard said. Getting Powell the ball could add juice to a sluggish offense as he uses his athleticism to draw fouls, a unique ability on the roster. He has five games with at least nine free throw attempts this season, one more than Leonard and two more than George, and in his last three games Powell has made 24 free throws. When those three are playing, the Clippers still concede more points than they have conceded for the season, but have a free throw percentage in the top 1% in the league, according to advanced stats website Cleaning The Glass.
“On many occasions he is immediately offended,” George said. “And it takes a lot of the pressure off us, it gives us a breather, it gives us a break. If he goes out and has an aggressive mentality, he will change our team and the game.”