Russell Westbrook hits a new low with Clippers, and things aren’t likely going to be looking up anytime soon

Russell Westbrook played pretty well to start the season, all things considered. He averaged roughly 15 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in around 34 minutes per game as the starting point guard for the Los Angeles Clippers. They were plus-64 in the minutes he played in those games and started the season with a 3-2 record. He wasn’t quite his All-Star self, but by and large, he was better than the Clippers could have expected out of a 35-year-old making minimum money. And then they traded for James Harden. In five starts alongside Harden, Westbrook’s field goal percentage plummeted roughly 10 percentage points. His scoring, rebounding and assisting all dipped considerably. The Clippers lost his minutes by 27 points. They were even worse in the minutes he specifically shared with Harden. They went 0-5 overall in the games they started the former Oklahoma City and Houston teammates together. And then they pulled the plug. Westbrook returned to the bench role he held with the Lakers, and for the most part, the team got better. They won their first three games with Westbrook as a reserve, even if he was playing considerably fewer minutes. His already declining playing time took a nosedive on Friday. In a 116-106 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, Westbrook played just 14 minutes. It was technically the fourth-lowest figure of his career, according to Ben Golliver, but functionally, it was the least he had ever played in a meaningful game that did not involve injury. Westbrook scored three points on 1-of-8 shooting. Harden wasn’t much better, making just two of his eight shot attempts, but he played 37 minutes. That appears to be the plan moving forward. Harden and Westbrook can’t function together. Their time in Houston proved that before the Clippers even landed the 2018 MVP. Those suspicions have thus far been confirmed. Lineups featuring the two of them have a minus-17.6 net rating in 241 possessions, according to Cleaning the Glass. Harden needs teammates that shoot, cut, screen and defend. Westbrook has rarely done those things willingly (except shooting), let alone well. Westbrook’s success relies on having the ball in his hands as frequently as possible. The Clippers saw what that looked like at the end of last season and the beginning of this one. It went well on paper. The Clippers still decided he wasn’t good enough. That was the fundamental conclusion that drove the Harden trade. Their histories together proved they couldn’t coexist. Adding Harden meant minimizing Westbrook, or excising him entirely. The latter isn’t quite an inevitability yet, but we’re barreling in that direction. Westbrook hasn’t seemed thrilled with his new role on the Clippers. He’s ducked the media recently in games in which he hasn’t played much, even if the Clippers won. When he was a Laker, he blamed a preseason hamstring injury on Darvin Ham’s decision to bring him off the bench. Nothing Westbrook has done thus far in his career suggests he’s willing to accept a minor role even if it means maximizing his chances of winning. So what does that mean for his future, if we assume that the Clippers don’t plan to bench the player they just traded for in order to appease Westbrook? If he were to get waived or traded, it’s hard to imagine he has a significant role waiting for him with any contenders. The Clippers were the one winner last season with the shooting, defense and locker room to theoretically incorporate him. They were the team that supposedly embraced him. If that team doesn’t want him, if the Clippers have decided that building a roster and playing style around Westbrook’s needs is worthwhile, it’s hard to imagine another team ambitious enough to win anything would. That might not be the worst thing. There are teams that probably wouldn’t mind giving him 30 minutes per game to put up stats as they pile up lottery balls. Who’s gonna sell tickets for the Bulls once they trade away their veterans? Westbrook still has basketball left in him. He’s just never proven he has winning basketball left in him. Plenty of teams are satisfied losing in style every year. Maybe that’s his fate as he approaches retirement. This is all speculation at this point. One key Clipper could tweak an ankle tomorrow and suddenly Westbrook’s on-ball talent might become more important to them. But that’s seeming less and less likely with each passing game. The Clippers went all-in on becoming a Harden team. There’s just not a place for Westbrook on such a team.

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