Clippers reportedly plan to signal Russell Westbrook

From the beginning of hypothesis earlier this month that Russell Westbrook would possibly be a part of the Clippers, the potential match was not apparent.

Yet Westbrook is becoming a member of the Clippers anyway, with the guard set to signal after securing a buyout from Utah, the place the Lakers traded him, and clearing waivers, based on an individual with data of the scenario not approved to talk publicly on the matter — a transfer that’s years within the making because the Clippers attempt, but once more, to fill what they view as a lead-ballhandler void by signing a previous star who will arrive with questions on his effectiveness to recapture his previous type.

One day after the NBA’s commerce deadline closed Feb. 9, Lawrence Frank, the Clippers’ president of basketball operations, laid out standards for efficient guard play, one which included sufficient of a taking pictures menace to house out opposing defenses, a determined Westbrook shortcoming.

Others within the locker room had questioned Westbrook’s means to mesh when he obtained on the courtroom — citing his 29% three-point taking pictures — and what would occur if the previous most useful participant didn’t, given the group’s different ballhandling choices, together with perennial All-Stars in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. They described how Westbrook had arrived in his hometown of Los Angeles in 2021 with nice fanfare for a way he would play off of two Lakers stars, LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and the way he’d been dealt away after an oft-combative tenure when the trio by no means clicked.

The Clippers fortified their ballhandling choices on the commerce deadline with former Houston guard Eric Gordon, a precious three-point shooter who additionally recognized as some extent guard, and second-year burst of vitality Bones Hyland, whom coach Tyronn Lue recognized as the purpose guard off the bench after his acquisition from Denver.

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Frank, in his post-deadline feedback, described a perception he has held publicly since final 12 months, that the group prefers gamers who fill sure talent wants, not inflexible positional definitions. The group didn’t want some extent guard, he instructed, a lot as somebody who may defend a number of positions and assault defensive closeouts with drives whereas taking pictures the ball.

“The term point guard is a very, very vague term, so to me what you do is build your team around your best players and get complementary skill sets,” Frank mentioned. “Because let’s say we had a ball dominant point guard who had other limitations. Well, how does that impact your stars?”

Internally, there was a skepticism that Westbrook would elevate the group’s star duo of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George higher than Hyland, Gordon or Terance Mann, the nominal start line guard since early January.

Where the signings of Rajon Rondo in 2021 and John Wall final summer time didn’t transfer the needle with the group’s title aspirations, the eventual addition of Westbrook underscores the group’s perception within the energy of some extent guard.

The Clippers, finally, heard the vocal lobbying for Westbrook by George — who authored one of the best statistical season of his profession subsequent to Westbrook in Oklahoma City in 2018-19, and mentioned he was a “huge Russell supporter” in October whereas coming to the guard’s protection — and Marcus Morris Sr. Each agreed that his rebounding, protection and tempo had been lacking from the franchise’s championship pursuit.

“We can run with him and that’s kind of our game, is spacing the floor,” George mentioned Feb. 10. “I know that’s my game, spacing the floor for being a shooter on the perimeter and then just running with him in transition — I think that’s what we can complement him [with]. We got a bunch of guys that fit that play style as well for myself, Kawhi [Leonard], Norm [Powell], Mann, and quite honestly we need somebody. You know, it sucked that John [Wall] didn’t work but what John brought is what we need: a guy that can get up and down the floor … and get us some easy baskets in transition.”

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One component Westbrook indisputably supplies — availability. The Clippers have been wracked by lineup interruptions all season due to accidents and rest-related absences, and Westbrook is likely one of the NBA’s most sturdy gamers, lacking solely three video games this season at age 34.

Morris mentioned on Feb. 10 that he believed Westbrook had been blamed for too giant a share of the Lakers’ struggles throughout his season-and-half with the franchise. Westbrook averaged 17.4 factors, 6.9 rebounds, 7.2 assists and three.7 turnovers per recreation whereas making 47% of his photographs contained in the arc and 29% past it. He took on a reserve function with the Lakers this season. Westbrook’s present and former groups will face one another April 5 of their regular-season finale.

“I want him to come,” Morris mentioned earlier this month. “I think that you can’t kill a wounded dog. You give him an opportunity to come back, it could be dangerous.”

George’s feedback earlier this month are a window into why the Clippers consider Westbrook will work for them when he didn’t with the Lakers. George mentioned the group was higher suited due to its taking pictures. Seven gamers of their common rotation shoot 37% or higher from three-point vary. One of Westbrook’s finest stretches of his itinerant profession since leaving his longtime residence of Oklahoma City was in Houston in 2020, when the Rockets switched to a five-out offense eschewing a standard middle to house the courtroom, house Westbrook carved up with efficient drives.

Like previous signings of level guards Reggie Jackson and Wall, Westbrook will arrive to a locker room the place he has established allies, with George the widespread hyperlink in each case, however not the one new teammate with previous familiarity.

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“Watching him when I played with him, we definitely seen him jump into MVP caliber form,” Clippers ahead Robert Covington, a teammate of Westbrook on that Rockets group, mentioned in October. “The way the floor opened up and the way he attacks seams and everything. But it’s just like — when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands, it’s like a different dynamic, he can’t be as effective. Saying that, it’s not that he can’t be effective. It’s just — Russ is a playmaker. And when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands, it’s a different dynamic for him.”

In 2021, when Westbrook was nearing the tip of his one-season tenure in Washington, he eyed a Los Angeles return — to the Lakers solely, Wizards normal supervisor Tommy Sheppard mentioned.

“He just said, ‘If I can get to the Lakers, that’d be something I would love to do. If not, I’ll be back here,’” Sheppard mentioned in 2021 following Westbrook’s commerce to the Lakers. “I said, ‘What about the Clippers?’ He said, ‘Hell no.’”

Now Westbrook and the Clippers have discovered themselves ready to say sure to one another.