Russell Westbrook

Clippers Notes: Leonard, Westbrook, Gordon, Ballmer

The Clippers aren’t playing Kawhi Leonard in back-to-back games, even though their record is terrible when he’s not available. Leonard sat out today’s contest due to injury management on his right knee, and L.A. had a four-game winning streak snapped by Orlando. The Clippers have lost their last seven games without Leonard and are just 3-14 since mid-November when he doesn’t play, tweets Law Murray of The Athletic.

Leonard is expected to return for Sunday’s contest at Portland, but his absence was obvious today, especially on defense, writes Janis Carr of The Orange County Register. L.A. gave up 39 points in the fourth quarter while letting a lead slip away, and Russell Westbrook said it’s up to everyone else to step up their game when Leonard is sitting out.

“There’s no excuse for tonight,” he said. “We just didn’t close the game like we were supposed to, make the right plays like we needed to.”

There’s more on the Clippers:

  • Westbrook took the blame for today’s loss even though most of his numbers were pretty good, according to Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN. The veteran guard finished with 14 points, nine assists and five rebounds in 37 minutes. However, he committed six turnovers and went 0-for-3 from three-point range, dropping him to just 4-of-22 from long distance over the past seven games. “He’s a professional,” Paul George said. “He’s a veteran. Top 75 player. He’s going to get through it. He knows to stay confident, he knows that we trust him and got his back, that he’s going to stay in attack mode. I don’t ever worry about Russ’ shooting. I just know what he brings and his value to the team. And that is bigger than anything. He just does so much other stuff that I don’t care. He plays hard and that’s a guy that I want to roll with.”
  • Eric Gordon feels at home after the Clippers acquired him from Houston at the trade deadline, Carr adds in another Orange County Register story. Gordon, who started his career with L.A., has been a smooth fit since returning. “It definitely means a lot (to be back),” he said. “This was a situation I’ve always wanted to be in and looking forward to. We got a lot of talented guys and I think I kind of fit the mold of how they play and how they do things. It’s great to be back.”
  • Owner Steve Ballmer talked about the progress of the Clippers’ next home, the Intuit Dome, with Jabari Young of Forbes (subscription required).

Pacific Notes: Davis, Crowder, Westbrook, Mann, Clippers

Lakers star Anthony Davis led the team to a huge victory in New Orleans on Tuesday, piling up 35 points and 17 rebounds against his old club. However, the Lakers still aren’t comfortable having Davis play in both ends of back-to-back sets, so he’ll be held out of action on Wednesday in Houston, as Dave McMenamin of ESPN relays.

“He’s not going to play,” head coach Darvin Ham said. “He hasn’t been cleared. Even though he’s been playing pain-free, we made an organizational decision, starting with our team doctors, to hold him out of back-to-backs.”

According to McMenamin, Davis – who missed 20 games earlier in the season due a stress reaction and bone spur in his right foot – was reevaluated about two weeks ago, at which time the foot hadn’t shown significant healing. Lakers medical personnel has recommended holding him out of back-to-backs to reduce the risk of a setback.

“It’s just one of those things where even though he’s playing pain-free, it’s still an active injury,” Ham said. “So we have to monitor it and stick to the plan, as we always have done. And just go out there with our other guys and try to get a W and finish the trip the right way.”

While the Lakers are still favored to beat Houston even without Davis and LeBron James available, they certainly can’t take the game for granted in the midst of a competitive playoff race, especially given that the Rockets are coming off a Monday victory over Boston.

Here’s more from around the Pacific:

  • Bucks forward Jae Crowder derived some satisfaction from defeating his old team in Phoenix on Tuesday and was pleased with the reception he got from the Suns faithful, who gave him a resounding ovation in his first game back in the city. “Things ended in a bad way, on a bad note,” Crowder said after Milwaukee’s win, per Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic. “I appreciate the love and I appreciate the applause I got.”
  • Russell Westbrook‘s arrival has resulted in a role reduction for Clippers guard Terance Mann, but there’s no animosity between the two players, who have become friends in recent weeks, according to Janis Carr of The Orange County Register. “It’s been amazing to be on a team with Russell Westbrook,” Mann said. “I’ve been a big fan of his since he’s been in the NBA. Last night, we were joking, he’s in Year 15 or something, and he’s 34. I was like, ‘Man, you look 23. You look younger than me.’ It’s crazy. So just being able to watch him lead and be great is cool.”
  • With the Clippers‘ championship window starting to shrink in year four of the Kawhi Leonard/Paul George partnership, there’s an increased sense of urgency and a feeling that the stakes are higher as the playoffs near, Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN writes within a closer look at where things stand for the franchise.

Pacific Notes: Covington, Zubac, Westbrook, Durant, Curry

Robert Covington has played sparingly the last six weeks and the Clippers forward believes he can be a defensive force if he gets back in the rotation, he told Law Murray of The Athletic.

“I bring a different thing to this team,” said Covington, who is signed through next season with the Clippers. “And it’s one of the things, one of the reasons why they brought me here. It’s being that disruptor on it. Being a disruptor off the ball. Seeing things and reading it right. Watching plays really develop, and just getting a knack for getting my hands on the basketball. Creating an opportunity for us on the defensive side and creating transition plays. And getting out and running.”

We have more from the Pacific Division:

  • Clippers center Ivica Zubac has been pleasantly surprised by what Russell Westbrook has brought to the team since Westbrook cleared waivers and signed as a free agent, Tomer Azarly of Clutch Points tweets. “Honestly, it’s way better than I thought it would be,” Zubac said. “He’s a great leader also, he’s very vocal, something we needed… He has a great attitude, always smiling, laughing, being very positive.”
  • The Suns have a renewed spirit since Kevin Durant joined the lineup, Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic writes. The Suns are 3-0 with Durant in uniform and Phoenix once again has the look of a true contender. “Even in the postgame, a lot of people are saying we feel fresh. We play team basketball,” Devin Booker said.
  • The Warriors had a five-game winning streak halted by the Lakers on Sunday. Stephen Curry returned from a leg injury that sidelined him for 11 games and he knows their season could go in many different directions. “It’s weird to say, we’re still trying to win championships but we’re trying to avoid the play-in,” he said, per Kendra Andrews of ESPN. “Both can be true. … Until we get beat, we still feel we’re a tough matchup for anybody. That is the confidence we’ve got to have down the stretch.”

Pacific Notes: KD, Suns, D-Lo, Westbrook, Clippers

Superstar forward Kevin Durant had a successful debut with the Suns on Wednesday, writes Brian Windhorst of ESPN. The 34-year-old had been out of action since January 8 after sustaining a right MCL sprain, but he contributed 23 points (on 10-of-15 shooting), six rebounds, two assists and two blocks in 27 minutes during Phoenix’s 105-91 victory in Charlotte.

I feel like I fit in pretty well. Everybody out there was trying to make me as comfortable as possible,” Durant said. “I just got to keep grinding, man, and this jersey on me will look normal as games go on.”

Durant had never been traded in the middle of a season prior to being sent to Phoenix from Brooklyn last month, and he admitted he was nervous about his first game in Suns uniform.

New environment, new situation, new teammates, I mean I always feel I got to prove myself to my teammates and my coaches every single day no matter what I’ve done in the league,” Durant said, per Windhorst. “So I feel like there’s pressure to be who I am every day.”

Here’s more from the Pacific:

  • Suns head coach Monty Williams said after the game that Durant will be on a precautionary minutes restriction for “at least the next week,” as Shane Young of Forbes Sports relays (via Twitter). Williams was noncommittal about Durant’s status for Friday’s game in Chicago, Young adds.
  • Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell continues to be hampered by a sprained right ankle. He told ESPN’s Dave McMenamin that he will miss Friday’s game versus Minnesota, his fourth consecutive absence (Twitter link). When asked if he could potentially play Sunday against Golden State, Russell wasn’t sure. “We’ll see once we get through Friday,” he said.
  • Wolves guard Austin Rivers believes Russell Westbrook is a “natural fit” with the Clippers, according to Tomer Azarly of “He starts, that’s exactly what he wanted to be in that situation,” Rivers said before Tuesday’s matchup with the Clippers. “The pressure’s not on him to close games. They got two closers, so he gets to go play and just kinda be him and not have to worry about all the pressure. I think it’s a great fit, honestly.” Rivers, who played with Westbrook in Houston a few years ago, explained that the Clippers’ shooting should give Westbrook more room to drive and make plays. Westbrook has put up strong individual numbers with the Clippers, averaging 16.0 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 9.3 APG (4.3 TO) and 2.3 SPG on .529/.444/1.000 shooting, but the team is 0-3 with him in the lineup thus far, Azarly notes.

Heat Notes: Lowry, Dragic, Jovic, Yurtseven

Kyle Lowry will miss his 10th straight game Wednesday due to knee soreness, but the Heat haven’t been aggressively pursuing another point guard in the buyout market, writes Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald. Lowry was flown to Philadelphia on Sunday and took part in a practice in hopes of playing Monday. He was briefly upgraded to questionable before being ruled out.

Jackson cites several factors for the team’s lack of urgency to find a replacement for Lowry, even with Russell Westbrook, Patrick Beverley and Reggie Jackson all receiving buyouts and John Wall still on the market. Heat officials remain confident that Lowry will eventually return and can still play at a high level, and they’re happy with how Gabe Vincent has performed in his absence.

Miami also believed it had greater needs in the frontcourt, Jackson notes, which is why Kevin Love and Cody Zeller were prioritized on the buyout market. The front office looked into Westbrook, a source tells Jackson, but decided not to pursue him due to deficiencies on defense and with three-point shooting, as well as a negative review from a league insider.

Jackson hears that the Heat also had interest in Kyrie Irving when he asked the Nets for a trade, but management wasn’t unanimous in believing he would be a good addition. Miami never aggressively pursued a deal with Brooklyn, according to Jackson’s sources.

There’s more from Miami:

  • Longtime Heat point guard Goran Dragic may seem like an obvious target after being waived by the Bulls Tuesday, but Jackson doesn’t expect him to wind up in Miami. He and the team still have a good relationship, but sources tell Jackson there are more likely destinations, including the Mavericks, where he could team with fellow Slovenian Luka Doncic.
  • After falling into seventh place during a recent losing streak, the Heat will open a crucial six-game home stand Wednesday as they try to avoid the play-in tournament, writes Anthony Chiang of The Miami Herald. It’s not a position the team expected to be in, but Udonis Haslem said players are focused on landing a top-six spot. “I don’t operate well in losing spaces. I’m tired of losing like Jimmy (Butler),” Haslem said. “We just got to keep fighting, though. We got a locker room full of fighters, we got a locker room full of guys who have built their reputation off hard work and they wouldn’t be here without that. So we got to go back to our roots and what got us here — busting our [butt] and working hard.”
  • The Heat have assigned Nikola Jovic and Omer Yurtseven to their G League affiliate as they try to return from injuries, tweets Anthony Chiang of The Miami Herald. Jovic has been sidelined since late December with a back injury, while Yurtseven is rehabbing from ankle surgery that has kept him out all season.

Trade Breakdown: Lakers/Jazz/Wolves Three-Team Blockbuster

This is the fourth entry in our series breaking down the significant trades of the 2022/23 season. As opposed to giving out grades, this series explores why the teams were motivated to make the moves. Let’s dive into a blockbuster deal between the Jazz, Lakers and Timberwolves.

On February 9, the Lakers acquired D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt; the Jazz acquired Russell Westbrook, Damian Jones, Juan Toscano-Anderson and the Lakers’ 2027 first-round pick (top-four protected); and the Timberwolves acquired Mike Conley, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, and three second-round picks (one from L.A., two from Utah).

Notes: Westbrook subsequently reached a buyout agreement with the Jazz and signed with the Clippers. All three teams involved in this deal generated traded player exceptions, which can be found right here.

The Jazz’s perspective:

The Jazz weren’t invested in continuing the season with their current roster, despite a surprisingly fun ride in a year that they were expected to be at the bottom of the standings.

The move opened up playing time for Ochai Agbaji, Collin Sexton and Talen Horton-Tucker, three young players who had been in and out of the lineup (Sexton has been a rotation regular, but he’s dealt with injuries – this deal moved him into the starting lineup). Vanderbilt had already been moved to the bench due to the emergence of Walker Kessler, and the two were an awkward fit together offensively because neither is much of a threat to shoot (Vanderbilt compensates for his lack of shooting somewhat by being a good passer and ball-handler for a power forward).

Many fans think the Jazz “lost” this deal. That perception seems to stem from two things: the Lakers only giving up one first-rounder, when it was assumed they’d have to move off one just to trade Westbrook’s $47.1MM expiring salary, and the Jazz’s asking prices not being met.

The Jazz were reportedly looking for first-round picks for all three of Conley, Beasley and Vanderbilt. But that was never a realistic expectation.

Based on the structure of the deal, it’s pretty clear the Jazz were motivated to move off Conley’s contract for ‘23/24, which is partially guaranteed at $14.32MM ($24.36MM base salary), and didn’t at all mind adding Westbrook’s expiring deal to do it (it’s worth noting that the Jazz did add Jones’ $2.6MM player option for next season, which will almost certainly be exercised; Toscano-Anderson is on an expiring minimum-salary deal). I viewed Conley’s contract as having negative value leading up to the trade deadline, as he’ll turn 36 years old next season and has already declined on both ends of the court, particularly defensively.

Beasley provides something that every team wants: high volume 3-point shooting. However, he’s a very streaky shooter, and doesn’t offer a ton in other areas. He makes $15.56MM this season with a $16.52MM team option for ‘23/24. I thought Beasley had slightly positive value, but nothing special – maybe a heavily-protected first-round pick or a few seconds.

Vanderbilt was the player who had the most value of the three, in my opinion, due to his age (23), rate of improvement, versatility, strong defense, and team-friendly contract – he makes $4.37MM this season and $4.7MM in ‘23/24 (only partially guaranteed at $300K). I thought Utah could get a late first-rounder this season or a lottery-protected first in the future for him.

In aggregate, that’s one player with solid value, one with slightly positive value, and one with negative. Not a ton of overall value despite the three being rotation players for a decent team.

Obviously, the Jazz highly valued the lightly protected pick from the Lakers. Even in a scenario where the Lakers have the worst record in ’26/27 (they probably won’t, but you never know), there would still be a 47.9% chance the pick lands at fifth overall and goes to Utah. The major downside – and the upside for the Lakers – is if it does fall in the top four, the Jazz only receive the Lakers’ 2027 second-rounder.

Another factor in this trade from Utah’s side of things that I thought was interesting is also pretty cynical. If the Jazz believe Minnesota going from Russell to Conley is a downgrade — and it is at this point in their careers, which is why the Wolves got second-rounders back — then that increases the odds of the Wolves missing the playoffs. In that scenario, the Jazz would get a lottery pick in 2023 (they control Minnesota’s pick due to the Rudy Gobert trade).

They could also reasonably view the deal as a short-term upgrade for the Lakers, which would increase L.A.’s odds of passing Minnesota and Utah in the standings, and thus increase the odds of the Jazz controlling two lottery picks. For the rest of the season, the better the Lakers do and the worse the Wolves and Jazz do, the better it is for the Jazz as far as those first-rounders go.

The Jazz held out for a long time to get the best deal they could. This turned out to be it.

The Lakers’ perspective:

I think the Lakers made out well in this deal, but it did reduce their draft arsenal to go for a star in the future (that may or may not have been realistic). Still, they upgraded their roster, got younger, and the players make sense for what they need.

Los Angeles replaced one player who was a poor fit and two little-used reserves for three potential starters; at worst they’re rotation regulars. None of the outgoing players were shooters, and they picked up a couple pretty good ones.

Russell, 27, is having a strong year from an efficiency standpoint, shooting career highs from all over the court (54.3% on twos, 38.9% on threes, 85.0% from the line). However, he is not a great rebounder or defender, and his decision-making can be questionable as a lead ball-handler.

That’s less of a concern with the Lakers, as he can play alongside James and/or Dennis Schroder. That allows Russell to function both on and off the ball, which is ideal for his skill set. Unfortunately, he sprained his ankle in his fourth game back with Los Angeles, but the injury isn’t considered a long-term concern.

As I’ve mentioned previously, Beasley is a feast-or-famine type shooter who can go off at any given time. It’s a bit of roller coaster ride watching him from game-to-game because you never know if he’s going to be on that day or not, and he doesn’t stop shooting even if he’s off.

While he doesn’t provide a whole lot else, opponents treat the 26-year-old like a sharpshooter who has to be accounted for at all times, and that creates space for teammates. The Lakers didn’t have anyone like that on the roster before the deal, even if Beasley is more of a very willing good shooter than a great one.

Vanderbilt is the player I think fans will be most excited about of the three, despite being the least well known. He brings a much-needed infusion of speed, length, defensive versatility, hustle and rebounding the team has lacked all season.

Still just 23 years old, Vanderbilt instantly becomes the best wing defender the Lakers have had since they decided not to re-sign Alex Caruso in 2021 free agency. His energy is infectious and can swing the tide of games – he was absolutely instrumental in the team’s huge comeback victory over Dallas on Sunday.

The three players were teammates on the Wolves from 2020-22, so they already have some built-in chemistry (strangely, Beasley and Vanderbilt have now been packaged together in three separate trades). Only Vanderbilt has a small partial guarantee for next season, which gives the Lakers the flexibility to move on from any of them in the offseason, though I think that’s unlikely.

Another positive aspect of the deal is the Lakers added more desirable contracts. Almost their entire roster was on minimum- or maximum-salary deals before the deadline, but now they have more variety in that regard, assuming they retain all three players.

I don’t think this trade suddenly transformed the Lakers into title contenders this season, but I do think it made them much better than they were — now and going forward.

My biggest question mark from the Lakers’ side is, if this trade was available in February, could they have done it earlier in the season? Because they have to dig themselves out of a hole to climb up the standings, and there aren’t many games left in which to do it – a task made even more difficult by the foot injury to James.

The Wolves’ perspective:

One of the downsides of dealing away multiple starters at once — Patrick Beverley and Vanderbilt last year in the Gobert trade — is that it can erode a team’s chemistry. The Wolves clearly got on well last season. That matters for a young team, especially one that historically has been a bottom dweller in the standings.

The Gobert trade upended that chemistry, transforming a fun up-and-coming team with low expectations into a win-now team with high expectations. It’s pretty clear some of the remaining players were less than thrilled with the deal, especially at the start of ‘22/23. Some moved on and slowly learned how to work with Gobert. Some did not.

Russell was in the latter group. He frequently had terrible body language this season, specifically anytime Gobert made a mistake (fumbled passes, etc.).

Perhaps more than anything else, this deal was a pretty clear vote of no confidence in Russell. Obviously, the Wolves did not value him at whatever he was asking for in contract extension negotiations.

The Wolves could not have easily cleared a significant amount of cap space in the offseason even if they had let Russell walk in free agency. Instead, they decided to push that decision a year down the line and replace his salary slot with Conley, a mature veteran who should be able to provide leadership for a team that, from the outside looking in, is lacking in that department.

Minnesota is trying to remedy some of the chemistry issues by adding a calming, professional locker-room presence in Conley. The fact that Conley played with Gobert for three seasons was obviously a motivating factor as well. They already have some built-in chemistry, which was clearly lacking with Russell.

He’s also a much better decision-maker than Russell on the court, with his assist-to-turnover ratio at 4.4-to-1, which ranks fifth in the NBA (Russell’s is 2.31-to-1, which ranks 112th). That’s important for a Wolves team that ranks 28th in the league in turnovers per game.

I have a lot of respect for how Conley carries himself, both on and off the court. He was one of the league’s most underrated players during his 12 years with Memphis, and his teams have consistently been better when he’s playing — that was true for Utah this year too (better on offense and worse on defense, but still plus overall). He has a high basketball IQ and generally doesn’t beat himself with careless mistakes.

Alexander-Walker was likely more of a throw-in for salary-matching purposes, but the Wolves will get a closer look at him for the rest of the season (he can be a RFA if they give him a qualifying offer). The former 17th overall pick is having a solid year from an efficiency standpoint and has impressed me in some late-game situations with his defense, even if he wasn’t consistently in Utah’s rotation.

While I understand the logic behind the move from Minnesota’s side of the deal, I also think the Wolves took on the most short- and long-term risk.

Make no mistake, the Wolves knew this was was a downgrade from a production standpoint — that’s why they got back three second-round picks in the deal. Considering his age, size (6’1″, 175 pounds) and contract, if Conley declines any further, it will be very difficult to move him next season.

Russell may have his flaws, but he was also clutch this season, having bailed them out on several occasions during second-half collapses (a season-long problem). He was the team’s second-leading scorer with Karl-Anthony Towns sidelined for most of the season, and removing him from the equation puts a lot of pressure on the rest of the roster to replace Russell’s scoring – the Wolves are just 21st in the league in offensive rating.

The early returns haven’t been promising. Minnesota has gone 1-4 since the deal was finalized, though in fairness some key rotation players have been in and out of the lineup.

The key takeaway from the Wolves’ end is that they preferred to get something back for Russell rather than losing him for nothing in free agency. Not wanting to make a significant investment in Russell makes sense to me if they didn’t view him as a long-term fit. Still, if they miss the playoffs and the Jazz get extremely lucky and that pick lands early, it would be an unmitigated disaster for Minnesota.

Los Angeles Notes: Jackson, Hyland, Westbrook, Vanderbilt, Russell

Reggie Jackson anticipated he’d get traded by the Clippers, he told Law Murray of The Athletic. Jackson was dealt to the Hornets, who waived him. He then signed with another Western Conference contender, the Nuggets.

“I’ve been in the game for 12 years,” Jackson said. “I was the only expiring contract (the Clippers had). Got to get better. Can’t really move anything. … So, the writing was on the wall for me. Being a pretty smart guy, I kind of knew. Either we were going to stay put, play small-ball, or, if anything was going to happen, I was ready to be the one that would probably be moved.”

We have more on the Los Angeles teams:

  • In the same story, Bones Hyland told Murray that he’s glad Russell Westbrook signed with the Clippers, even though his playing time might be cut. “I always was a fan of Russ’ game,” Hyland said. “Fan of Russ off the court as well. Great human being, great to be around. Great to talk to. Was the MVP of this league. Going to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. … So, I’m glad we got him. He brings a lot to the team.”
  • Jarred Vanderbilt lifted the Lakers during their comeback from a 27-point deficit against Dallas with 15 points. 17 rebounds and four steals. The deadline addition from Utah has already impacted the team’s season, Anthony Davis told Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times. “His value for our team, you can’t even put it into words what he brings and does for us,” Davis said. Vanderbilt looks like a steal in the three-way trade with Minnesota and the Jazz, according to Jovan Buha of The Athletic, because he addresses the Lakers’ need for a long, athletic, dirty-work forward.
  • D’Angelo Russell (right ankle sprain) is listed as doubtful for the Lakers’ game against Memphis on Tuesday, according to Kyle Goon of the Orange County Register (Twitter link).
  • In case you missed it, LeBron James is expected to miss multiple weeks due to a foot injury. Get the details here.

Clippers Notes: Westbrook, Mann, Zubac, George

Scoring 175 points wasn’t enough for the Clippers to win Friday night, but their newly signed point guard looked right at home during the offensive display, writes Jim Alexander of The Orange County Register. Russell Westbrook posted 17 points and 14 assists in his first game with the team and received a standing ovation when he fouled out in the second overtime of the second-highest scoring game in NBA history.

Westbrook didn’t officially become a Clipper until after he cleared waivers on Wednesday following a buyout with the Jazz, so he had limited practice time to get familiar with his new teammates. Coach Tyronn Lue said Westbrook learned the basics of the team’s offense quickly and “he knew enough” to handle a starting role.

“Knowing (Paul George)’s plays, knowing Kawhi (Leonard)’s plays, that’s the most important thing,” Lue said. “So he picked those things up right away. There’s still a lot more that we can still incorporate and learn on the fly. But I thought he did a good job knowing the plays and knowing the play calls, and he did a good job with it.”

Westbrook welcomes the chance for a new opportunity after a frustrating season and a half with the Lakers. He didn’t mention his former team by name after Friday’s contest, but he alluded to having the Clippers’ veteran stars as advocates for signing him, per Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.

“Just the ability to be able to go out and compete,” Westbrook said when asked about his debut. “I think that’s something I don’t take for granted, being somewhere (and) given an opportunity to go play. Not just that, but the support of the organization, my teammates, the fans, overall, it’s a great debut but just didn’t get the win.”

There’s more on the Clippers:

  • Lue said the first game with Westbrook was a “learning” experience for him in regard to setting rotations, Youngmisuk tweets. Terance Mann only played 18 minutes, and Lue admitted that Mann wasn’t used enough.
  • Although the Clippers set a few scoring records Friday, they sometimes looked like a team whose key players haven’t played together very much, observes Andrew Greif of The Los Angeles Times. L.A. committed 25 turnovers, including four straight during a crucial fourth quarter stretch that allowed the Kings to tie the game.
  • Ivica Zubac missed Friday’s game with a strained right calf and is considered day-to-day, Greif tweets. Lue said George is on a minutes restriction, but there are no restrictions for Leonard or Westbrook.

Clippers Notes: Westbrook, George, Zubac, Hyland

The day after the trade deadline, star forward Paul George told reporters that he wanted Russell Westbrook to end up with the Clippers. Two weeks later, with Westbrook on the verge of making his Clippers debut, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst suggested on his Hoop Collective podcast that George’s advocacy for the former MVP was the driving force behind the team’s decision to sign him.

“From what I understand, they were internally against (signing Westbrook) at the start,” Windhorst said, per RealGM. “Paul pushed for it publicly and privately. Kawhi (Leonard) supported it. And they looked more into it and they were like ‘Well, you know, there are some things he can potentially help us with. One of the things that’s a factor for us is we tend to kind of get a little loaf-y.’ They talked themselves into it, is the long story short.”

Windhorst’s reporting doesn’t come as a real surprise — comments made by president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank after the trade deadline indicated he wasn’t initially targeting a player like Westbrook. Frank spoke about wanting a point guard who wouldn’t be very ball dominant and who has “got to be able to shoot.” Westbrook, a 29.6% three-point shooter this season, is at his best with the ball in his hands.

Still, as Windhorst alluded to, and as ESPN’s Zach Lowe writes in an Insider-only story, the Clippers only rank 20th in the NBA in drives this season and are tied for 23rd in shots at the rim. Plus, they have more shooting around Westbrook than the Lakers did, so there are reasons to believe the veteran’s fit could be better with L.A. other’s team.

Here’s more on the Clippers:

  • Ahead of Westbrook’s debut with the Clippers, Andrew Greif of The Los Angeles Times, Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report, and Jovan Buha and Law Murray of The Athletic all evaluated the 34-year-old’s potential fit and discussed whether or not they think the match will be a good one.
  • The Westbrook signing should be viewed as an endorsement for head coach Tyronn Lue and the Clippers’ stars, Murray writes for The Athletic. As Murray explains, the move signals that the front office is willing to listen to its players and trusts Lue to make the best decisions for the team.
  • The Clippers will be without starting center Ivica Zubac in their first game after the All-Star break on Friday due to a right calf strain, tweets Greif. The injury should open the door for recently acquired big man Mason Plumlee, who played 17 and 18 minutes in his first two games with the Clippers, to take on a bigger role.
  • Former Nuggets and current Clippers guard Bones Hyland repeatedly cited “miscommunication” as an issue that led to his exit from Denver, where he felt “kicked to the curb,” according to Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN. So far though, communication hasn’t been a problem for Hyland with the Clippers, even though his playing time may take a hit following the addition of Westbrook. “I understand (Lue) has a good plan for me,” Hyland said. “I know he’s not just going to leave me in a desert, man, just by myself. … The first thing he did (after the Westbrook signing) was call me over and talk to me one-on-one. That’s something I respect about Ty Lue.”

Pacific Notes: Westbrook, Lakers, Payton, K. Thompson

Russell Westbrook is glad to be in a situation where he feels wanted, but the Clippers only have a short time to figure out his best role with the team, writes Baxter Holmes of ESPN. L.A. shook up its backcourt with this week’s signing of Westbrook and trade deadline deals for Eric Gordon and Bones Hyland. It hasn’t been determined who will start and what the combinations will look like, and coach Tyronn Lue only has 21 games remaining to get his rotations in place.

“If he’s doing too much or not enough, I’ll let him know,” Lue said of Westbrook. “But we want him to be the player that he is, the MVP, the Hall of Famer, everything he brings every single night. We want him to be that person, that player. And then we’ve just got to make sure that it’s in the confines of our team and what we’re trying to do team-wise.”

Westbrook was stuck in a difficult situation with the Lakers, where he was a poor fit and an easy target for the team’s disappointing performance. A trade to Utah and a buyout with the Jazz gave him a chance to reset his career, and he said at Wednesday’s introductory press conference that he’s happy to be able to stay in L.A. and help the Clippers contend for a title.

“For me, it’s just finding my way to be able to help other guys,” Westbrook said. “It’s something I truly embrace, and that’s what I will do — make sure I can make the game easy for all these guys that are here, find out their spots, what they like, what they don’t like. And that’s going to be a process for me, but I’m ready for the challenge and looking forward to it.”

There’s more from the Pacific Division:

  • The Lakers also remade their roster this month in hopes of making a push for the playoffs. Coach Darvin Ham tells Dave McMenamin of ESPN that three of the team’s newcomers — D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt — will be part of the starting lineup going forward. L.A.’s next seven games are against teams that it’s trailing in the Western Conference playoff race, and Ham knows they’re all important. “If we fall into a play-in situation, so be it,” he said. “But our No. 1 goal is to go secure a (playoff) spot, not just throw games off here or there (and) just wish for a play-in. We want to go secure a spot.”
  • The Warriors will reevaluate Gary Payton II‘s condition in about a month in hopes that he can be ready for the playoffs, according to Kendra Andrews of ESPN. Golden State opted to go through with a four-team trade even though Payton wasn’t able to pass his physical. “Just have to take it day by day,” Payton said. “When the medical staff and I agree that things are good and it’s safe for me to get back out there and be able to be myself and my body feels like itself, we’ll come up with a decision.”
  • Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Klay Thompson should be available for back-to-back games for the rest of the season, tweets Madeline Kennedy of The Bay Area News Group.