We are now starting the unofficial second half of the NBA season with the completion of All-Star weekend and whatever that All-Star Game was supposed to be. That means we are inching closer to the playoffs, and teams are looking for ways to improve their rosters in the buyout market.
When Russell Westbrook was traded to the Utah Jazz as part of a three-team trade, the writing was immediately on the wall for him to be bought out. However, we received reports recently that Westbrook had discussions with several teams, including the Miami Heat, Washington Wizards, Chicago Bulls, and the Los Angles Clippers.
The Clippers seemed to be the front runners for a couple of reasons. First, Westbrook is a California native and the public endorsed by Paul George, who has been reportedly recruiting his former teammate and had this to say during All-Star Weekend.
Who would PG13 most like to see win an NBA Championship?— NBA TV (@NBATV) February 18, 2023
“Outside of myself, probably Russ.” pic.twitter.com/M8YTjEWq7C
The Clippers did make other moves during the trade deadline that changed their backcourt. They traded for Bones Hyland and Eric Gordon while trading away Reggie Jackson. Gordon and Hyland can play point guard, but both are more combo guards than point guards.
Enter Westbrook, who is about to play for his fourth team since his trade from OKC after the 2018-19 season. Plenty of stories have been written about why it ultimately didn't work with the Lakers, and we can spend another month talking about that. Still, for this article, we will discuss Westbrook's fit with the Clippers and if it will be any different than his Lakers stint.
To start or not to start, and does he finish the game?
The first question that needs to be answered is whether Westbrook will continue his recent play as a sixth man or move back to his more familiar role as a starting point guard.
As mentioned earlier, the Clippers made some moves in their backcourt at the trade deadline. Jackson had long been moved to the bench, with the Clippers electing to run with Terance Mann at the point guard spot. However, throughout the first half of the season, it seemed that the Clippers were never sold on this idea. Mann's minutes fluctuated all season, and there were some games where Mann wasn't on the court in crunch time.
We also have reports that Westbrook will eventually take over the starting spot.
League source confirms to @TheAthletic that Russell Westbrook is headed to LA today to take a physical. Expectation is that he will start with Clippers, but it may not be right away.— Law Murray (@LawMurrayTheNU) February 20, 2023
Official signing likely won't happen until 48 hours after Utah Jazz waive Westbrook.
Of course, this could all change once Westbrook gets time on the court with his new team. The Lakers had Westbrook starting as well, but eventually concluded that he worked better with the second unit. Westbrook did finish some games with the Lakers, but it changed from game to game. With the Clippers, it is not guaranteed how Lue will manage late-game lineups. The Lakers and Clippers, however, do have a different dynamic.
Clippers have a different team dynamic
Even though LeBron has been slotted as a small forward for most of his career, most know he is really the point guard on any team he has been on, and it was no different with the Lakers. That didn't leave a lot of opportunities for a player like Westbrook to have the ball in his hands. Westbrook has never been confused with Klay Thompson, a player who can still thrive even when he doesn't have the ball in his hands.
Even though players like George and Kawhi Leonard do command the ball, they are both players who can play off other players with or without the ball. Outside of those two players, no one will demand touches in the offense, which should lead to more opportunities for Westbrook to have the ball in his hands.
Westbrook is at his best when running the offense and is initiating plays instead of sitting in a corner waiting on a pass late in the shot clock. George had arguably his best season playing alongside Westbrook in their final season for the Thunder, so much so that he was in the running for MVP most of that season. The chemistry between the two All-Stars is definitely there, and is one reason to be encouraged by this signing.
Tye Lue may be the coach Westbrook needs at this point in his career.
Another thing to consider is the coaching. Dervin Ham may become a great coach, but he is a rookie coach who is still trying to find his footing as a head coach. Ty Lue, on the other hand, has seen a lot in his coaching career. From an NBA championship with LeBron and the Cavs to navigating injury after injury with the Clippers, Lue has always found a way to make his teams competitive.
Lue may better understand how to use Westbrook and get him to perform in a way Ham could not figure out. Lue has been known as a player’s coach, and maybe that is what Westbrook needs at this career stage.
Westbrook is at the point of his NBA career where a ring means more than individual stats. Westbrook has had post-OKC success with the Houston Rockets, where for a few months he played at an elite level before the pandemic and injuries destroyed any chance he had to finish the season strong. With the Washington Wizards he was one of the main reasons the team made the playoffs in his first season. He then struggled to find a role with the Lakers, as he never adapted his game to his new position off the bench.
Depending on who you speak to, it was Westbrook not wanting to change or the Lakers not knowing what to do with the future Hall of Famer. We will find out who was right very soon, or it could be that both sides were right. I think Westbrook can help and provide the Clippers with another player who can get his own shot. Even in a minor role, Westbrook can offer insurance if Leonard has to miss games again.
One thing is for sure Westbrook career is winding down, and this may be his last best shot at that elusive ring.