The Clippers’ first true move of the 2023 offseason is to re-sign Russell Westbrook on a two-year, close to $8M deal, with a player option in the second year. This is the Non Bird Rights deal, or a 120% raise on the veteran minimum salary, which should pay him around $3.8M in 2023-2024.

The Clippers signed Russ after he was bought out by the Jazz at the behest of Paul George, and immediately started him and gave him a big role. Russ averaged 15.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 7.6 assists with 3.4 turnovers across 21 regular season games, and 23.6 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 7.4 assists in 5 playoff games with 4 turnovers.

Russell Westbrook is a controversial figure. He quickly won over numerous Clippers’ fans with his energy, effort, and “give a shit” attitude that contrasted with the Clippers’ 2023 season to that point. He also had some excellent playoff games, especially on the defensive end. Ty Lue (hilariously) said that “Russ saved the season”, and he’s not alone in feeling that way.

Skeptics will point to Russ’s lack of shooting being a poor fit next to Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, as it allows opponents to clog the lane and play 5 on 4 defense. There’s also the fact that Russ shot unsustainably well as a Clipper, with shooting percentages well, well above career marks across all spots on the court outside of 16-23 feet. Russ will also be turning 35 in November, and has played a ton of minutes – for a player who relies heavily on athleticism, a 5% slip could mean a massive overall dip in NBA playability.

People who are less into Russ will also point to Paul George’s desperate desire for him and the Clippers immediately handing the keys to the offense to him as a bad thing, not a good thing. He was a safety blanket for Paul George and the Clippers, and will have a larger role than he should because of his status and Paul George’s influence.

In terms of contract, this is fine. Russ at the very least proved he’s still an NBA caliber player last year on the Clippers, and a $3.8M deal is not much. The player option next year does give Russ the chance to get a bigger deal next summer, like Nic Batum did last year, which I would not be crazy about, but the Clippers would not need to re-sign him if he did.

The question will be what, if anything, this means for the James Harden pursuit. If the Clippers do land Harden, starting Russ alongside him and 213 seems like a disaster waiting to happen. If Russ is comfortable leading the bench, I think it could work out ok, with him stepping into the starting unit whenever one of the new “Big 3” is out. It is possible that signing Russ means the Clippers are out on Harden, but it could also mean that they’re just shoring up guard depth for a trade that will surely strip them of it.

For my own thoughts, I really didn’t want the Clippers to bring back Russ, whether they brought in Harden or not. I want the Clippers to play their younger guys off the bench and give Bones Hyland in particular a long leash at minutes, and Russ is just another old player who is only declining from here. I also just really don’t like his fit next to Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, especially in the playoffs. The cost of the deal is fine, and Russ is legitimately a great culture guy. I just hope the Clippers can get him to buy into a more limited role, Harden or no Harden – a Russ-led Clippers’ team seems very unlikely to have much success in 2024.

Welcome back to the Clippers, Russell Westbrook! And the Clippers are still making moves – Lucas will have thoughts on the KJ Martin deal shortly, which I absolutely love.

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