Clippers plan to sign Russell Westbrook, but is he a good fit?

Lakers guard Russell Westbrook pulls up for a fadeaway shot in the lane.
Former Lakers guard Russell Westbrook plans to sign with the Clippers once he clears waivers following a contract buyout from the Jazz.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

It was Feb. 10, and 24 hours after the NBA’s trade deadline had passed the Clippers looked at their roster and felt little urge to fill their one available spot.

They had just traded for Denver guard Bones Hyland, an energetic young player viewed as a backup point guard and one-man fast break.

There was 34-year-old Eric Gordon, who appealed for his ability to punish defenses well behind the three-point arc and alternately at the rim.


There was backup center Mason Plumlee, who added size, pace and passing.

All three new additions were seen as worthy complementary pieces to the team’s pillars, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, and within only two games together, the old and new had developed such an easy chemistry “it’s as if they started the season with us,” George said last week after a victory in Phoenix pushed the Clippers into fourth place in the Western Conference standings.

George added that “we got everything we need” to make another championship push — the same feeling held within the franchise since the deadline’s close.

Clippers stars Paul George and Kawhi Leonard are among those who believe new additions make them ready for a run into, and through, the playoffs.

Feb. 17, 2023

In the 10 days between the deadline and Monday, that feeling changed, leading to the decision few initially saw as a likely outcome: The Clippers plan to sign former Lakers guard Russell Westbrook to a minimum contract through the season’s end once his contract is bought out by Utah and he clears waivers, a person with knowledge of the decision confirmed under condition of anonymity because they were unable to speak publicly on the matter.

The signing is expected to be made official Wednesday or Thursday. The timing could allow Westbrook to practice Thursday and potentially make his debut with the Clippers on Friday, when the team resumes its post-All-Star break schedule against Sacramento.

Since adding Leonard and George in a pair of blockbuster additions in 2019, the Clippers have built their team around their stars. Their input — a belief in Westbrook echoed by coach Tyronn Lue, another major stakeholder in roster decisions who has long advocated for a “traditional point guard” in his rotation — initiated the Clippers to change course and land on an answer ripped from one of Westbrook’s Jordan brand marketing campaigns: Why not?

Westbrook spoke with Clippers leadership an estimated three to four times, not including multiple conversations the former NBA most valuable player and career triple-double leader also had with Clippers players. The guard was not guaranteed a starting job but was promised a legitimate opportunity to contribute, with Westbrook indicating that he wanted to be part of a contender, even without a specific outline for how his role could change over the course of the postseason, according to a league insider with knowledge of the discussions who spoke on condition of anonymity.


There had been some thought early that if the Clippers were to fill their 15th and final roster spot, a young player made the most sense, as a bet on their help in future seasons. Internal discussions that took in a range of opinions, including but hardly limited to Lue, George and Leonard, produced a common theme: If the team could add another piece, they would prefer one with experience, intensity and speed — in effect, a more impactful version of John Wall, the former All-Star point guard the team signed last summer who didn’t move the needle as hoped.

Westbrook had arrived in his hometown of Los Angeles in 2021 with great fanfare for how he would play off of Lakers stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis, but was dealt away in a trade to Utah when the trio never clicked. Westbrook’s soon-to-be current and former teams will face each other on April 5.

Lakers point guard Russell Westbrook tries to block a shot by 76ers guard James Harden.
Lakers point guard Russell Westbrook tries to block a shot by Philadelphia 76ers guard James Harden during a game in January.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

One Westbrook strength is a decided Clippers weakness: availability. The Clippers have been wracked by lineup interruptions all season because of injuries and rest-related absences, and Westbrook is one of the NBA’s most durable players, missing only three games this season at age 34.

Like past guard signings of Reggie Jackson and Wall, Westbrook will arrive in a locker room where he has established allies, with George the most prominent link in every case.

The move is also a bet on the Clippers’ past success in turning veterans who were ineffective elsewhere into successful reclamation projects, with Jackson and Nicolas Batum going from being discarded in Detroit and Charlotte, respectively, to vital contributors during the team’s 2021 run to the Western Conference finals..


Throughout the last 10 days, the debates within the team centered on how much that structure needed a player of Westbrook’s strengths and weaknesses. Meeting with reporters on Feb. 10, Lawrence Frank, the team’s president of basketball operations, reiterated a belief he has held publicly since last year, that the team prefers players who have certain skills, not rigid positional definitions. The team didn’t need a point guard, he suggested, so much as someone who could defend multiple positions and attack defensive closeouts with drives while shooting 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 said. “Because let’s say we had a ball-dominant point guard who had other limitations. Well, how does that impact your stars?”

But those stars, among others, felt Westbrook would have a positive impact on them. Clippers leadership listened as players began taking their lobbying public, as well, trusting players’ feel for what might work. Starters George — who authored the best statistical season of his career next to Westbrook in Oklahoma City in 2018-19 — and Marcus Morris Sr. backed Westbrook’s fit publicly one day after the deadline passed, saying the team’s collection of seven rotation players shooting 37% or better on three-pointers could better accommodate Westbrook’s strengths and weaknesses than the Lakers.

“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, 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.”

Clippers forwards Paul George and Marcus Morris Sr. believe the team needs another point guard and say Russell Westbrook could be the right fit.

Feb. 11, 2023

Morris, also on Feb. 10, said he believed Westbrook had been blamed for too large a share of the Lakers’ struggles during his season-and-half with the franchise, one that began with fanfare in the summer of 2021 but often turned combative or ineffective. Westbrook averaged 17.4 points, 6.9 rebounds, 7.2 assists and 3.7 turnovers per game while making 47% of his shots inside the arc and 29% beyond it.

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


The Clippers will be Westbrook’s fourth team in the last five seasons. One of Westbrook’s best stretches since leaving his longtime home of Oklahoma City was in Houston in 2020 when the Rockets switched to a five-out offense, eschewing a traditional center to space the court, space Westbrook carved up with effective drives.

The track record of getting into the paint that appealed about Gordon applies to Westbrook, too, as he averaged a Lakers-high 15.1 drives per game this season. However, they resulted in points only 43% of the time.

“Watching him when I played with him, we definitely seen him jump into MVP-caliber form,” Clippers forward Robert Covington, a teammate on that Rockets team, said 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.”

Covington, at the time, also complimented the Lakers for finding a better use for Westbrook with the second unit, and finding his best use with the Clippers is a paramount priority over their final 21 regular-season games.

In 2021, when Westbrook was nearing the end of his one season in Washington, he had eyed a Los Angeles return — to the Lakers only, Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard said.

“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 told NBC Sports Washington in 2021. “I said, ‘What about the Clippers?’ He said, ‘Hell no.’”


Over the course of 10 days, Westbrook and the Clippers found themselves in a position to say yes to each other.