Clippers reportedly plan to sign Russell Westbrook
From the start of speculation earlier this month that Russell Westbrook might join the Clippers, the potential fit was not obvious.
Westbrook is joining the Clippers anyway, with the guard set to sign after securing a buyout from Utah, where the Lakers traded him, and clearing waivers, ESPN reported Monday — a move that is years in the making as the Clippers try, yet again, to fill what they view as a lead-ballhandler void by signing a past star who will arrive with questions about his effectiveness to recapture his past form.
One day after the NBA’s trade deadline closed, Lawrence Frank, the Clippers’ president of basketball operations, laid out criteria for effective guard play, one that included enough of a shooting threat to space out opposing defenses, a decided Westbrook shortcoming.
Others in the locker room had questioned Westbrook’s ability to mesh when he got on the court — citing his 29% three-point shooting — and what would happen if the former most valuable player did not, given the team’s other ball-handling options, including perennial All-Stars in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. They described how Westbrook had arrived in his hometown of Los Angeles in 2021 with great fanfare for how he would play off of two Lakers stars, LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and how he’d been dealt away after an oft-combative tenure when the trio never clicked.
The Clippers fortified their ballhandling options at the trade deadline with former Houston guard Eric Gordon, a valuable deep three-point shooter who also identified as a point guard, and second-year burst of energy Bones Hyland, whom coach Tyronn Lue identified as the point guard off the bench after his acquisition from Denver.
Frank’s criteria also included the ability to defend multiple positions and attack defensive closeouts with drives, and internally, there was a belief that those two, along with Terance Mann, the nominal starting point guard since early January, were perhaps better at meeting those needs than an outside signing.
The Clippers, ultimately, heard the vocal lobbying for Westbrook by George — who authored the best statistical season of his career next to Westbrook in Oklahoma City in 2018-19, and said he was a “huge Russell supporter” in October while coming to the guard’s defense — and Marcus Morris Sr. Each agreed that his rebounding, defense and pace were missing from the franchise’s championship pursuit.
“We can run with him and that’s kind of our game, is spacing the floor,” George said 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.”
Westbrook’s current and former teams will face one another April 5 in their regular-season finale.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.
Source: Yahoo Sports