After being traded by the Lakers and bought out by the Jazz, Russell Westbrook . As confirmed by CBS Sports' Bill Reiter, Westbrook will sign with the Clippers, who become the latest franchise to fall victim to the theoretical idea of what this former MVP and future Hall of Famer can still bring to a team with championship aspirations.
He can push pace! He can lead second units! With the Clippers, in theory, he can have at his disposal five-out lineups comprised of four shooters, which were the circumstances under which Westbrook last thrived while in Houston.
Remember that? The Rockets uprooted their whole team to give Westbrook a chance to provide some kind of value. It helped Westbrook. Not the Rockets. We keep trying to make this Westbrook conversation about fit, as if that was the only problem with the Lakers, or the Wizards, or the Rockets.
Where, exactly, does a guy who, despite being one of the worst shooters in history, takes bad shots at bad times, a guy who turns the ball over, who doesn't play defense, a guy who doesn't have any of the skills necessary to succeed away from the ball and doesn't have much interest in filling that role anyway, fit?
A lot of players have come to Westbrook's defense amid the relentless waves of criticism that have come at him over the past half decade. Paul George, who played with Westbrook for two seasons in Oklahoma City, recently said that other than himself, Westbrook is the guy he'd most like to see win a championship.
"They paint the picture ... this guy is absolutely one of the best dudes, one of the best people in the league," George said of Westbrook. "It'd be nice to see him get decorated."
See, this is the problem. Everyone makes this out to be an attack on Westbrook the person, or an attack on his career as a whole. That's not what any of this is about. He can be a great guy and a future Hall of Famer and a detrimental player in 2023. All those things can be true. By most every account, they are true. Where teams get in trouble is allowing the sentimentality of the first two to somehow cancel out the current reality of the last one.
There are people who actually believe Westbrook has been really good this year. The Sixth Man of the Year stuff was hilarious while it lasted. This is one of the least efficient scorers and worst shooters in history who is having one of the least efficient and worst-shooting seasons of his career; his 45.2 effective field-goal percentage ranks in the 11th percentile among combo guards, per Cleaning The Glass, and registers as his worst mark since his second season.
With that said, let's look at what Russell Westbrook the basketball player, in 2023, can do for the Clippers. Again, in theory, he can be a whoosh of energy in the middle of games. Whatever success he had with the Lakers came largely against inferior bench matchups.
For small stretches, the Clippers could, in theory, put him at the head of a five-out attack and let him play in the open floor with spaced-out avenues to the paint. Mason Plumlee can be the floor-running big that Russ needs if he's going to have a chance in any traditional lineup. If he's playing well, let him go a little longer. If he's not, get him out. Short leash at best, DNP-CD at worst. There's a theoretical blueprint in place that can control Westbrook's damage while still tapping into his limited upside.
But the reality is teams still think Westbrook is a core guy, on a championship team no less. The Clippers are reportedly going to start him. This is crazy. Terance Mann is a significantly better player. Norm Powell should not be losing a single minute to Westbrook. The Clippers think they're making themselves a better team by adding Westbrook when in reality, in this reported capacity, they're voluntarily making themselves worse.
No matter how many teams make the same mistake there's always one that thinks they're different, that believes they can make the unworkable thing work. The Rockets were that team. The Wizards were that team. The Lakers were that team. Now the Clippers are that team. They might win the title this year, but if they do, it won't be because of the Westbrook addition. It will be in spite of it.