LOS ANGELES — After the LA Clippers traded point guards Reggie Jackson and John Wall away on Thursday’s deadline, Paul George and Marcus Morris Sr. made it no secret that they want the Clippers to add Russell Westbrook should he become available.
Westbrook was traded from the Los Angeles Lakers to the Utah Jazz on Wednesday. However, if Westbrook were to seek and receive a buyout of his contract, George let it be known that he would love to be reunited with his former Oklahoma City Thunder backcourt mate.
George brought up Westbrook when he was asked if the Clippers should add a point guard with their open roster spot in the buyout market.
“I mean if there’s, you know, somebody out there — Russell,” George said after the Clippers lost 119-106 to the Milwaukee Bucks at home on Friday night. “If it makes sense and obviously it goes with our team, we’re all for it. You know, we need a point guard. But you know, [at] the same [time], I think we’re good as well. If nothing happened, we got enough in this locker room to be able to make it work.
“But it would definitely improve our team if we had that traditional point guard to kind of get us into things and make the game easy. So hopefully Russell sees this and we figure something out.”
George has been in contact with Westbrook. The two played together in Oklahoma City during the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons before George requested a trade to the Clippers to join Kawhi Leonard. Alongside Westbrook, George had his best season and was an MVP candidate, averaging a career-high 28 points and 8.2 rebounds to go with 4.1 assists in 2018-19.
George was asked what Leonard, who did not play Friday night due to knee injury management, thinks of the idea of adding Westbrook.
“He likes it,” George said. “But I mean, you gotta talk to [him] for his answer.”
The Clippers traded Jackson and Wall and shooting guard Luke Kennard and acquired guards Bones Hyland and Eric Gordon and center Mason Plumlee in separate deals Thursday.
While Hyland is a young guard capable of providing a scoring jolt and energy, and Gordon is a veteran guard who can shoot and defend while also being able to play backup point guard, the Clippers do not have a true traditional point guard in the rotation. Terance Mann starts at point guard, but head coach Ty Lue has said that he sees Mann as a versatile small forward.
Lawrence Frank, the team’s president of basketball operations, said the Clippers had “conversations with true point guards” before the deadline but pointed out that there are contenders that don’t have traditional point guards in their rotations.
“You play through your best players,” Frank said. “If there was a point guard who could be in our top eight or nine, you know we looked at those guys. … We need someone that won’t be played off the floor defensively, someone who can share the ball responsibilities but not be so ball dominant. You know the ball is going to be in Kawhi and PG’s hands about 60 percent of the time, so it’s a delicate balance. So, I think regardless of ‘point guard’ or not, they got to be able to shoot, because you know in the playoffs the stars are not going to have all that type of space.”
Lue said earlier this season that he prefers to have a true point guard in his rotation if possible.
“Well, it is what it is,” Lue said when asked of coaching the remainder of the season without a true point guard if the Clippers don’t add one. “And so 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.”
Morris said the Clippers could use a point guard, and when he was told that George talked openly about wanting Westbrook, Morris said, “I’m campaigning, too, for him then.”
Morris said people have forgotten what kind of player Westbrook was.
“He hasn’t had an opportunity to play on a team where, like, he could be himself and be able to play freely,” Morris said. “Playing with the Lakers, it’s like media, media, media. And from the outside looking in, like every time something bad went wrong — Russell Westbrook. Nobody else was really getting no blame. And it just kept spiraling down.
“But we accept him open arms, man. Let him be himself. We need the personality, we need the veteran. He’s been in the playoffs a lot of times, been to the championship. I want him to come. I think that you can’t kill a wounded dog. You give him an opportunity to come back, it could be dangerous.”
Westbrook had a rocky season and a half with the Lakers but averaged 18.5 points, 7.1 assists and 7.4 rebounds last season. He averaged 15.9 points, 7.5 assists and 6.2 rebounds this season coming off the bench for the Lakers.
The trio of LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Westbrook, though, was unable to get the Lakers to the playoffs last season. The Lakers, who are currently 25-31, traded Westbrook this week in a three-team deal in which they landed D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt.
If the Jazz and Westbrook decide to work a buyout of the final year on his deal, George and Morris believe he will be a much better fit with the Clippers than he was with the Lakers.
“I just think we in particular got enough shooting to surround Russ where Russ can be Russ,” George said. “And I think the floor will be open for him, spacing will be there for him. I’m a big believer in and a fan of what Russ’s work is, having one of my best seasons in my career alongside him. I’ ve seen what he can do, night in, night out, and I think he’s still got a lot of game there.
“I’m biased when it comes to Russ, and I really think he can improve the team. He’s such a big talent. He rebounds, he finds guys, he makes the game easy for everyone, and I think he’ll come and he’ll mesh. He’ll figure out how we play and he’ll adjust to it.”
If Westbrook becomes available, George and Morris believe he could change his narrative in Los Angeles after what they believe was a poor fit with the Lakers.
“I mean, no knock on the Lakers and his fit there. Obviously, LeBron can shoot the s— out of it,” George said. “You know, there’s guys that obviously can shoot with the Lakers as well. But I think we’re a little younger. We can run with him, and that’s kind of our game is spacing the floor. 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], T-Man. And quite honestly, we need somebody. Sucked that John 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.”
Morris called Westbrook “one of the greatest players that ever played the game.”
“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.
He added: “Man, we’ll take him. We’ll love him. We’re open arms. Come on and let’s try to get to the championship.”