The Clippers are adding former MVP Russell Westbrook to their team, so the 213 Hoops crew is here to give thoughts and grades on the signing.
Randi Geffner: B
I am likely in the minority here, but I’ll take a cautious glass half full approach just for fun. From a team chemistry perspective, recognizing that none of us actually has any idea what happens behind the scenes, although it seems that Westbrook can be divisive/selfish, he is very close with Paul George who seems to be a great guy (who definitely wants to win a championship so he wouldn’t likely just try to stack his team with his friends for fun) so let’s give Russ the benefit of the doubt here on that factor.
Let’s not forget that Westbrook was the NBA Most Valuable Player not that many years ago, it’s not like basketball skills of that caliber totally evaporate into the atmosphere. Yes, he was a train wreck with the Lakers but that means nothing. That mess was doomed from the jump and was as much on LeBron and the front office as it was on Westbrook.
Ultimately, although I fear for the impact on morale of players like Mann and Powell who are thriving of late and may be relegated to lesser roles, in Jerry West and Larwence Frank we trust. Look at the stagnant or fading careers that have been magnificently reworked on the Clippers just in the past few seasons. Zu? Batum? Reggie? Powell? This could be a great thing (OK maybe not “great” but good or at least not bad). There seems to be some word on the street, if Twitter is to be believed, that the conversations included his acceptance of where he would fit in, which let’s hope means NOT in the starting lineup in Mann’s spot. Either way, it is happening so I’m getting on board.
Lucas Hann: F
The regular season is an opportunity for teams to develop identity and cohesion. The Clippers have largely squandered that opportunity, in part due to Kawhi Leonard’s recovery timeline (not the back-to-backs so much as the first month of the season), in part due to committing to the failed John Wall experiment for far too long, and in part due to general malaise where the coaching staff’s decisions and players’ intensity both suggested that the games didn’t matter. They made good deadline deals to balance the roster, and had a formula where I believed maybe–maybe–they could get enough time together in the last 20 games to be a playoff-ready team.
Unfortunately, they don’t have time to waste watching the John Wall experiment fail again. Westbrook has historically offered very little if the basketball isn’t in his hands, and he’s never been hyper-efficient with it (his career value is as a floor-raiser, not a ceiling-raiser). The Clippers are currently getting more points out of the possessions they will be giving to Russell Westbrook than he will create for them, and his lack of shooting and inconsistent defensive focus will hurt them on non-Westbrook possessions. You’re either counting on him to be more efficient than he’s been in years, or reinvent himself on the fly to be an off-ball weapon (screening, cutting, shooting–all things he has never done well at the NBA level) at the age of 34. I don’t feel good about either proposition, I am skeptical of the internal politics of cutting Russ out of the rotation when things go awry, and I worry that even if they are able to make that difficult decision, they will have wasted valuable reps.
I understand that this is a minimum deal and is, in that sense, much more “low-risk” than the Lakers’ acquisition of Westbrook 2 years ago. But the risk for the Clippers isn’t in the money, it’s in the minutes. The reporting is that Westbrook will start, making Terance Mann the guy who will likely lose the most playing time. Terance is a better basketball player than Russell in 2023. That means the Clippers got worse for this signing–and this isn’t a niche blogger take; even the sportsbooks think the Clippers are less likely to win the title after signing Russ than they were without him.
Ralston Dacanay: C-
I would absolutely love for this to play out like a movie and Russell Westbrook proves everybody wrong with a highlight-filled revenge tour on a deep Clipper playoff run. But it really feels like those within the Clippers organization who campaigned for Westbrook are misdiagnosing what the team needs, which especially stings considering Lawrence Frank just outlined his vision for the team—a formula that’s already shown major flashes in just the first two games with the new guys. Yes, the Clippers didn’t have to give up anything to get Westbrook. Yes, Westbrook is a hometown talent that should fit better with the size and shooting that LAC can surround him with. However, this does feel like a subtraction-by-addition move for the Clips since his arrival will take away minutes from guys who’ve already proven they can contribute. Considering how strong LAC’s top-nine already was, let alone Bones Hyland and Robert Covington who could easily be rotation players as well, it seems the Clippers are taking a gigantic, unnecessary risk despite already having little room for error moving forward.
I’d love to give Tyronn Lue the benefit of the doubt to pull the right levers for the rotation as things play out, but he hasn’t earned that from me so far this season. I will say that from an entertainment standpoint, the Clippers will be a must-watch the rest of the way for a lot more fans around the league. I mean the storylines surrounding this team are just amazing for content. But as someone who religiously follows the team, I can’t help but feel like LAC was already stocked up with everything they needed at the deadline and may be repeating past mistakes—despite the counsel of their president of basketball operations and perhaps at the cost of a breakout rest-of-season run from Terance Mann.
Kenneth Armstrong: B
As a pure transaction, there is no real downside to this move. The Clippers have room to add a player, they did not have to give anyone up for Russell Westbrook, and it will not cost very much money (not that money is a concern for Ballmer). Moreover, there seems to have been a critical mass of players and staff who were in favor of adding him. Why not an A? Because the Clippers probably could have done better in the buyout market—or simply kept a roster spot open to stay flexible. Whether he will be a positive player or not is entirely up to Ty Lue: Westbrook should not close games, Mann’s minutes must stay intact, and Lue needs to be willing to give Westbrook DNP-CDs night after night, if the fit is not there. Nonetheless, adding a former MVP for nothing should not be seen as an inherently bad thing. The Clippers added a less talented—and more in decline—player in John Wall and moved on from him pretty quickly without losing anything. So long as Ty Lue learns on the fly more quickly this time, this should be fine.
Erik Olsgaard: C-
After taking some time to mull it over and consider all arguments, I still just don’t see how this will work. Russell Westbrook remains a downhill player with a skillset that allows him to get to the rim frequently and theoretically gives the Clippers their paint-and-spray point guard. But at this point in his career, he’s got a crazy low rim FG% and a crazy high turnover rate, so I’m not really expecting anything productive. And that’s without considering the weaknesses he’s always had (shooting/defense). That being said, he’s a great rebounder, a consistent pace pusher, by all (reputable) accounts a non-disruptive locker room presence, and the stars seem to want to play with him. There are still important questions: Will he focus primarily on getting better scorers the ball? Will he lock in on defense? Will he keep the pace up to avoid getting gameplanned offensively? Will he cut three pointers out of his diet entirely? For those of us who worry we already know (and hate) the answers to these, we’d love nothing more than to be proven wrong.
Shapan Debnath: D
I am not very happy, as every advanced metric makes Russell Westbrook’s poor efficiency line up with the eye test. Whether you look at his TS% (49.5%), Assist to Turnover ratio for a “true point guard”(7.5:3.5), PPP as the Ball Handler in PnR (0.75), sub 30% 3 point shooting, and really I could just keep going, there’s so many reasons to be against this trade. On top of that, LAC was FINALLY rolling on offense this past month with their health behind them, and now this happens. It’s an all-around bummer. My hope is that, much like John Wall, the role is minimized at that same 10-15 minutes with Kawhi on the bench, and his ability to drive is complemented by LAC’s better roster around him. There is a path here to some success, the issue is whether Westbrook, Ty, and the stars will embrace it or continue chasing the ghost of another past prime point guard. I don’t have much faith in that, but there is where I am. We need some primetime Ty now.
Cole Huff: C
Count me in as one of the skeptical Clippers fans for the Russell Westbrook experience. The Clippers tried Rajon Rondo, Eric Bledsoe, and John Wall in recent years as their “playmaking” point guards that would unlock the team. However, all were out of their prime, couldn’t shoot, weren’t great defenders, and ultimately were either benched or traded. So, we shouldn’t expect Russell Westbrook, who is also out of his prime and has a comparable skillset to the aforementioned three, to be what those guys couldn’t be. I’m not falling into that trap again. However, Russ is more playable than those guys at this point and maybe if he plays a smaller role it could offer some benefits. But I’ll be disappointed if this acquisition leads to less Terance Mann, who I’d always thought had potential in the Clippers’ starting lineup as a “tall Pat Bev” (was I right?).
Nonetheless, I’d love to be wrong about this. By all accounts, Russ is a great dude and a great teammate and it would be cool to see him bounce back after how things went across the hall. I’ll be rooting for him hard. But I’ll need to see it on the court before I can get excited.
Robert Flom: D+
It feels weird not being the lowest person on a Clippers’ move. Adding Westbrook, in a vacuum, is not awful. But knowing what we know about Russ, Ty Lue, and the length of time left in the season, I think the odds are much higher than not that he takes minutes away from better players – and detracts from the team chemistry that has been built recently. Moreover, I just don’t think the Clippers need him at all – he can playmake, but he needs the ball in his hands, and that would take the ball away from Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and even Norm Powell. His rebounding is helpful, but the Clippers’ rebounding has actually not been bad this year, and should improve with the addition of Mason Plumlee. Similarly, the Clipper did need more rim pressure, but Eric Gordon and Bones Hyland could help there.
Really, I think his best attribute could be his intensity and energy, but if he takes minutes from Terance Mann and say Nic Batum, the intensity won’t make up the difference. I’m also very skeptical that the Clippers will bench Russell Westbrook completely before it’s too late. There doesn’t seem to be much upside, and the downside of Russ playing a ton and sabotaging the Clippers’ offense through cramped spacing and poor decision-making is awful to think about.
Niels Pineda: D
Even trying to be as optimistic as I possibly can, which is something I hope Clippers fans can bring given the treatment of Russell Westbrook by Laker fans, I just can’t seem to understand this move outside of players pressuring the FO. The team has been clicking and looking better than they have all season, even considering the new additions still integrating themselves onto the team, and with only 21 games left… the team decides to add a player who is just about the exact opposite of a plug and play type of guy. In a season full of inconsistency where Ty Lue has insisted the main issue is not having enough reps with his guys, we just created even more complications that will have us tinkering up until the final regular season game. On top of this, I can’t imagine this move having anything but a negative impact on the locker room. I don’t exactly think having your star player openly campaign to get another guard in spite of some really great play from the ones on the roster will lead to much joy and happiness. I get that the Clippers want better passing, more intensity, and a faster pace, but maybe the guys begging for that should actually try to bring that themselves?