How Norman Powell and Tyronn Lue developed a Clippers bond

They had been in each other’s orbits for three straight years of playoff fights between Cleveland and Toronto. They had mutual NBA friends. And during the 2020 NBA bubble, they had been having a conversation about passing when the Clippers assistant pulled the Toronto guard aside.

There was a familiarity between Tyronn Lue and Norman Powell when they teamed up with the Clippers last season, but being an acquaintance of someone isn’t the same as being coached by them. Once Powell arrived by merchant ship from Portland, their time to learn how to work together was unexpectedly cut short by a foot injury that cost Powell two months.

Deepening their relationship would have to wait until the off-season in Las Vegas, where they both have a home. Powell, a maniac worker, started his summer training as early as 6 a.m. and tried to persuade Lue to drop by, but the coach isn’t an early riser. And so the two often met somewhere else: Lue’s favorite craps table at his favorite high-rise 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 he spotted him near the end of the table where a crowd would normally form around Lue, Powell would either play with Lue or converse with Lue while the coach played.

“T-Lue is an easygoing guy, it wasn’t really going into depth or trying to figure out how the next year was going to go, just talking here and there and seeing him in Vegas, hanging out with him, building more friendships and bonding away from basketball , that’s how I saw it and enjoyed it,” Powell said.

Facing Powell could have been seen as a gamble – selling a player who was a top scorer at Portland when he came off the bench to support Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, taking a significant hit on the team’s tax bill. On Saturday, the one-year anniversary of his trade, Powell continued to show why it paid off.

The 6-foot-3 San Diego Lincoln High and UCLA guard scored 24 points in an overtime win over New York. His right-handed dunk over Knicks forward Julius Randle underscored a stretch of play in which Powell became the sort of offensive force the Clippers hoped for a year ago.

Since a difficult shootout earlier in the season, confusion over his role as it switched between starter and reserve, followed by a groin injury in late November that left him 10 games out when he was just gaining momentum, Powell has settled into a rhythm settled in who will see him compete for the honor of the NBA’s sixth man of the year. Since returning from injury in late December, Powell has made 46% of his three-pointers and 51% of his total shots while averaging 18.6 points, the highest average of any reserve guard during that span.

Powell, said teammate Leonard, “won a lot of games for us.”

“Obviously, I was excited to come here and everything that entails, being back in LA and being part of the team,” Powell said. “Honestly, I didn’t even really think it was going to be a year [since the trade] But it’s been a fun year, being part of the organization and the guys, feeling more comfortable and just helping the team.”

Long before Lue coached him, he knew Powell could score. What he’s learned about Powell this season is that he responds to a challenge.

“We’ve been challenging him for the last month to do the right play, get to the paint and shoot for Nico [Batum] and Mark [Morris] and Luke [Kennard] and guys like it when it goes downhill,” said Lue. “He did a lot better than that.

“…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 he fits into our system and just gets what we want from him every night and he’s been really good for us.”

The next step for Powell: not just influencing games as part of the reserve, but sharing the pitch with Leonard and George. Thursday’s fourth-quarter collapse during a loss to Milwaukee showed how much work we still have to do. With the offensive running entirely through Leonard and George, Powell didn’t shoot in the last 4 minutes and 16 seconds.

“It’s on me,” Lue said. “I just need to figure out when the two of them are down with Norm, just include him in the game.”

Though Powell worked with Leonard on Toronto’s 2019 championship team, that Raptors offense ran and moved while the Clippers worked more slowly to identify and exploit discrepancies, Leonard said. Getting the ball to Powell can 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 caught 24 free throws. When those three are playing, the Clippers still concede more points than they 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, gives us a breather, gives us a break. If he leaves and he has the aggressive mindset, it changes our team and the game.” How Norman Powell and Tyronn Lue developed a Clippers bond

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