Swanson: Russell Westbrook a Clipper? Why not? Plenty of reasons

LOS ANGELES — Why not?

That’s famously Russell Westbrook’s slogan, right? The genesis of it, he told USA Today once, came back during high school, when he and his friends “were just doing a lot of dumb stuff …” like, say, “‘Let’s run in the middle of the street.’ ‘Why not?’”

OK, kids, let me tell you why not: It’s dangerous. Please don’t do that.

Now, Clippers, let me tell you why not: Westbrook would play in every game he’s able to, and he’ll play hard. Always admirable, especially in an era when minutes are managed with extreme caution – but he wouldn’t help your defense, he wouldn’t hit many shots, and he wouldn’t engender affection from your fans. Even here, in L.A., where he’s from. We just saw that movie.

But kids? Kids are dumb. They’re kids. They don’t know any better.

The Clippers are run by fully grown executives, experienced and savvy and above big-name chasing. They know not to go playing in the middle of the street – they just had a front-row seat for the wreckage wrought on those Lakers’ streets in the past year and a half.

If Clippers fans are smug about the fact that their team flipped Mike Muscala for Ivica Zubac back in 2019, Lakers fans would be insufferable watching the Clippers try to make Russ happen in 2023.

Honestly I have to admit it: I gotta fill this out https://t.co/zYe2668UFK pic.twitter.com/f1cQOCMtBp

— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) February 9, 2023

Already, Lakers fans have never been so happy to have been proven wrong, never so thrilled to be filling out faux apology forms on social media directed to Rob Pelinka, who, it seems, might have proven his critics wrong.

Why? The Lakers finally reached the end of their rope with Westbrook, agreeing to trade him, Juan Toscano-Anderson and Damian Jones to the Utah Jazz in exchange for D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt, with Mike Conley going to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

What’s more, Pelinka negotiated sending only one top-four protected first-round draft pick in 2027 to Utah with the Jazz sending a trio of second-rounders to Minnesota.

And now, the 34-year-old Westbrook, a nine-time All-Star who played at UCLA, is expected to be bought out by the Jazz. That would free him up to sign with anyone but the Lakers, and Bleacher Report’s Chris Haynes reported that he might be staying home, moving only so far as the Clippers’ locker room down the hall at Crytpo.com Arena, though the Chicago Bulls also are reported to have interest.

The move not only ends the wayward Westbrook experience, it gives the Lakers (25-30) desperately needed shooting and length.

Meanwhile, with 24 games left after Wednesday’s 110-104 loss to Dallas in Kyrie Irving’s efficient 24-point Mavericks debut, the Clippers (31-27) still haven’t figured out their menu. They still don’t know who’s supposed to bring what and how much, and on which days.

Because they went out for a big bucket o’ wings and forgot the sides – an inside presence to fortify their interior play along with Zubac, their starting center; or a guy outside to set the table and defend the point of attack, a traditional point guard to play to Coach Tyronn Lue’s taste.

They might not get over the championship hump without the point guard they’re craving, but they won’t go anywhere near it without a center to spell Big Zu, or to step in when he gets in foul trouble or – knock on wood – if the Clippers’ iron man were to twist an ankle.

Maybe they’ll figure out how to add both, but a big man should be the priority.

Beyond that, the Clippers – who also sniffed around on the oft-controversial Irving before Brooklyn dealt him to Dallas – could stand to get more athletic, and Westbrook’s impressive physical gifts haven’t really waned.

But this season, the 6-foot-3 guard is shooting 41.7% from the field, 29.6% from 3-point range and 65.5% from the free-throw line, where he was as open as he has been from the floor much of the time this season, opposing defenses inviting him – no, begging him – to shoot.

That reliably unreliable shooting never created any space for LeBron James and Anthony Davis to operate. And it won’t do much to relieve the offensive burden on Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, because Westbrook’s presence will allow defenses to cheat in the half-court game, where the Clippers’ stars like to work best.

In theory, Westbrook could slot in for John Wall, who the Clippers reportedly are attempting to trade and, if no deal transpires, they plan to buy him out, according to Marc Stein.

So they’d have a more mercurial, volatile version of Wall, who they signed after Houston bought him out this offseason, choosing him over Isaiah Hartenstein, who flourished last season as the Clippers’ backup center?

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Wall has been out since Jan. 15 with an abdominal injury, and before that, he was shooting a Westbrook-like 40.1%, 30.3% from deep and 68.1% from the free-throw line – ineffective enough for the Clippers to want to move on … and to Westbrook?

Why not?

Because it wouldn’t be good for Westbrook, either. He isn’t the cool-headed “traditional” floor general the Clippers have been shopping for, he’s an unpredictable weather pattern. He’s a ball-dominant-or-bust proposition on a team that has two proven stars who both need the ball. It’d be a bad fit, another bad fit.

So, why not?

Because the Clippers – who were winners of eight of 10 coming into Wednesday’s game – know what they need.

And Westbrook ain’t it.

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