Several years ago, Russell Westbrook going to the Los Angeles Clippers would have sent shockwaves through the NBA. Together with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, the team would have become an instant championship contender. But times change.


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In the league’s current landscape, Leonard remains a star player and George is still an All-Star at 32, but the Clippers’ decision to sign Westbrook has been met with more caution than excitement. Regardless of whether he proves to be a useful contributor, the move is directly at odds with the Clippers’ immediate plans to win a championship.

Westbrook’s path to the Clippers in itself demonstrates his diminishing value as a player. After what can only be described as a failed stint as a member of the Lakers, during which he suffered from dreadful shooting efficiency, the guard was traded to the Jazz in a three-way deal. Utah promptly waived Westbrook and he landed back in Los Angeles for the Clippers after clearing waivers. Once a star addition, he is now more of a gamble than anything.

Analysts have generally reacted negatively to the Clippers’ newest acquisition. Multiple bookmakers went so far as to lower Los Angeles’ championship odds after the team signed Westbrook and several media outlets altered their projections as well. The most optimistic out there have elected to take a “wait-and-see” approach, but with the postseason fast approaching, this isn’t an assessment the Clippers can afford.

Facing an ever-improving Western Conference with a number of aging stars, the Clippers need more than a deep playoff run to make seasons worth of effort worthwhile. Since signing Leonard in 2019, the team has tried and failed to build a roster capable of winning a championship. There are only so many opportunities remaining and adding Westbrook to the mix in 2023 doesn’t immediately inspire the confidence it may have in the past.

But in truth, the puzzle surrounding Westbrook extends beyond the Clippers, because his recent regression makes him unsuitable and unignorable in equal measure. Whether a team is rebuilding or pushing for the postseason, Westbrook appears to be more of an obstacle than a contributor. On the other hand, his career numbers ensure that he must be signed somewhere. In this sense, the Clippers aren’t hurting their own championship chances — yet. They’re simply the team willing to take the chance.

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