Two Clippers agree: Russell Westbrook would be a good fit with team
In comments that revealed differences in how some Clippers players value the role of a traditional point guard versus the team’s front office, All-Star wing Paul George and starting forward Marcus Morris Sr. on Friday said the team needed to add a pure point guard and openly campaigned for Russell Westbrook.
The former Lakers guard, who was traded to Utah days earlier, has yet to be bought out by the Jazz, but George said he had been in contact with Westbrook since the trade to check on his former teammate in Oklahoma City.
Asked after Friday’s 119-106 loss to Milwaukee, which dropped the Clippers to 31-28, whether the team needed a traditional point guard, George said yes before, unprompted, he mentioned Westbrook by name.
“If there’s you know, somebody out there — Russell — you know, if it makes sense and obviously it goes with our team, we’re all for it,” George said. “We need a point guard. But you know, in the same, I think we’re good as well if nothing happened, I think we got enough in this locker room to be able to make it work but you know, it would definitely improve our team if we had that traditional point guard, to kind of get us in things and make the game easy.
“So hopefully Russell sees this and, you know, we figure something out.”
The comments came one day after the Clippers traded John Wall and Reggie Jackson, two players coach Tyronn Lue kept in his rotation throughout the season expressly because they fit the role of what Lue often referred to as a “traditional point guard” he trusted to organize the offense in crunch time.
The Clippers add depth to bench by acquiring Mason Plumlee, Bones Hyland and Eric Gordon while parting ways with point guards John Wall and Reggie Jackson.
The Clippers have one roster spot available. Lawrence Frank, the team’s president of basketball operations, said Friday it is his instinct to be patient before deciding how, or whether, to fill it. Players must be waived before March 1 to be eligible to play in the postseason.
The league’s most valuable player in 2016-17 and all-time leader in triple-doubles, Westbrook endured a rocky season and a half with the Lakers while shooting 43% overall, including 29% on three-point attempts this season. George, who produced the best statistical season of his career alongside Westbrook in Oklahoma City in 2018-19, acknowledged he was biased toward his former teammate’s abilities, believing Westbrook would fit better with the Clippers because of the team’s shooting.
“We can run with him and that’s kind of our game is spacing the floor,” George said. “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], [Terance] 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.”
Asked what Leonard, who did not play Friday, thought of Westbrook, George indicated he “likes it.”
Morris, meanwhile, said Westbrook “hasn’t had an opportunity to play on a team where he could be himself and be able to play freely,” and believed the guard had shouldered unfair criticism for his Lakers tenure.
“I want him to come,” Morris said. “I think that you can’t kill a wounded dog. You give him an opportunity to come back, it could be dangerous.”
At the trade deadline the Clippers added former Denver guard Bones Hyland and Houston guard Eric Gordon, both of whom Frank praised for fitting the profile the team wants from its backcourt: strong play on each end of the court, with perimeter shooting to keep defenders honest around Leonard and George.
The team believes Hyland and Mann, the incumbent starting point guard, might fit that criteria better than potential options on the buyout market. As a result people around the league not authorized to speak publicly on the matter expressed skepticism about the need to sign Westbrook.
Neither Gordon, Hyland nor Mann fits the archetype of the traditional point guard role Lue has clearly valued and sought to keep in his rotation.
Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, coach Tyronn Lue and the rest of the Clippers all have fond memories of the basketball courts where they learned the game.
“It is what it is,” Lue said. “It’s my job to make sure I put it together the right way so it works. [Frank] and those guys did the best they could to try to figure it out. It didn’t happen and that’s no excuse. So now we just got to make sure we put it together the right way, and that’s on me.”
Frank on Friday echoed a stance on point guards that he made public one year ago, too: that the archetype of the pass-first point guard can be outdated, with the team preferring players who possess the ability to distribute no matter their position. Frank cited examples of how Milwaukee, Golden State and Boston have created elite offenses organized by players who don’t fit the usual definition of a point guard.
The few that do fit the bill are hard to acquire, Frank said. The Clippers have not been immune to trying in the past, with mixed results. In 2020, Jackson was signed after Detroit bought out his contract. A year later they traded for Rajon Rondo, whose production underwhelmed. And last summer they signed Wall for his jolt of speed in transition, but he struggled with his jump shot.
The Clippers “obviously were having conversations with ‘true point guards’ ” before the deadline, Frank said, but he felt comfortable with where they landed, citing Hyland’s electric scoring and Gordon’s tough defense and court-spacing shooting.
“I guess the question is, would you rather have a backup point guard who has limitations in other areas, or would you rather have a better player who’s going to be in your top eight” of a playoff rotation, Frank said.
“…When you really study the league, 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. Because let’s say we had a ball-dominant point guard who had other limitations. Well, how does that impact your stars?”
George and Morris made clear their conviction that a traditional point guard would optimize their offense.
“He’s one of the greatest players that ever played the game,” Morris said of Westbrook. “And you know, it’s funny how — and he plays all the time — but it’s funny how like people just like try to down his career after having like … I mean Lakers didn’t win, so it’s not like he’s having the off year. The whole damn team is having an off year.
“So it’s not like it’s just him. So, you know what I’m saying? Like I said, man, we’ll take him. We’ll love him. We’re open arms, come on and let’s try to get to the championship.”
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