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Plaschke: In signing Russell Westbrook, Clippers foolishly mirror the Lakers’ mistake

Fool yourself for once, shame on Russell Westbrook.

Fool you twice, shame on the Clippers.

Are they serious now? Do they have any idea what they just did? In their constant worldwide evaluation of players, have they not bothered to look down the corridor?

Monday news that the Clippers have bought locker room stink bomb Russell Westbrook hit sensibilities like a Westbrook jumper off the side of the board.

In keeping with the Presidents Day theme, I can’t lie.

This is really really stupid.

You may recall that Westbrook spent the past season and a half with the Lakers. Apparently not the Clippers.

You may remember the bricks, the possession, the gruffness, the selfishness, the complete lack of self-awareness of an embittered former MVP who waved at his declining skills. The Clippers apparently had no idea.

Westbrook was happy after losses when he played well, stern after wins when he was ignored and divisive in a locker room beset by his tension. The Clippers must not have noticed.

For Westbrook’s final performance as a Laker, in a perfect bit of sour symbolism, he threw the pass that transformed LeBron James into his record-breaking shot… teammate.

The Clippers may have somehow slept through this, but here’s one thing they definitely didn’t miss. We’ll make it bold so they can’t miss it now.

Russell Westbrook was such a burden, the Lakers traded a first-round draft pick to get rid of him.

Think about that. How much controversy must he have caused? How ugly must it have become?

Westbrook was only available because Utah, who traded for him, doesn’t want him around and will buy him out of his contract. He was available despite being given every chance to pass for a hometown team that did everything to propitiate him. He was available because even the most player-friendly franchise in the league decided they couldn’t be friends anymore.

Russell Westbrook is benched after going out late in the fourth quarter in a loss to the Clippers on Oct. 20.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

But here comes the Clippers, their deadline trades were strong, their lineup finally played together, their championship chase was real and within reach…

And they suddenly decide to pull the pin on Westbrook and roll him into the middle of the group?

Again, the Clippers Curse is not only real, but self-inflicted, and heart goes out to all their poor loyal fans who have been knocked down again like that flattened Clipper Darrell.

Steve Ballmer, the owner of the Clippers, is a smart guy. Surely this wasn’t his idea. A man who spends billions to build a new arena in hopes of connecting with hardcore Los Angeles basketball fans would never buy a player so disliked, even his local roots are lost in the hooting and shouting.

Lawrence Frank, the team’s basketball boss, is a cunning man. A man who added valuable role players at trade deadline in Eric Gordon, Mason Plumlee, and Bones Hyland — and who has a solid point guard in Terance Mann — certainly didn’t think they still needed a volatile veteran who absolutely hates to get off the couch.

This was apparently a player deal. Just as LeBron James and Anthony Davis once pushed for the Lakers to trade for Westbrook after GM Rob Pelinka’s better judgment, it seems the Clippers veterans pushed for the same.

Paul George, who had his best season playing with Westbrook in Oklahoma City in 2018/19, recently told The Times’ Andrew Greif that he wanted the two to reunite.

“We can run with him and that’s kind of our game, keeping the floor apart,” said George.

Let’s see if he says the same thing when Westbrook runs and shoots and rattles.

Marcus Morris Sr., who has no idea what lies ahead, agreed with George that the Clippers needed Westbrook.

“I want him to come,” he said. “I don’t think you can kill a wounded dog. If you give him the chance to come back, it could be dangerous.”

Russell Westbrook sits on the scorer's table during a timeout against the Clippers on Nov. 9.

Russell Westbrook sits on the scorer’s table during a timeout against the Clippers on Nov. 9.

(Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times)

What’s dangerous is how, with the acquisitions of Leonard and George five years ago, the Clippers have seemingly relinquished control of their culture to a locker room that has no sense of chemistry.

Led by the often unavailable and often aloof figure that is Leonard, they have a group of championship-type players who have never really been included in a potential championship-caliber team. Remember, this is the same group that imploded in the 2020 bubble, the same group that got Doc Rivers fired, the same group that has played like strangers at times this season.

This isn’t going to make it any better. This can only make it more difficult. Westbrook grew up in Los Angeles during a time when the Clippers were laughable. He certainly viewed them through that lens. Just two years ago, his opinion hadn’t changed, judging by Washington Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard’s comments to NBC Sports Washington after he traded him to the Lakers in the summer of 2021.

Sheppard said he discussed Los Angeles’ trading opportunities with Westbrook when he brought up the city’s “other” team.

“I said, ‘What about the Clippers,'” Sheppard recalled. “He said, ‘Hell, no.'”


However, Ballmer has made it clear that this team belongs to his stars, and those stars want Westbrook, even though their priorities seem to be drastically different from those of the front office.

After the trade deadline two weeks ago, Frank was asked by reporters what the team still needed as a point guard.

“We need someone who is not played off the floor defensively, someone who can share ball responsibilities but is not yet so ball-dominant,” he said. “You know the ball will be in the hands of Kawhi (Leonard) and PG (Paul George) about 60% of the time, so it’s a delicate balance. So I think they should be able to shoot with it regardless of point guard or not.

With the exception of the kind of one-on-one defense Westbrook can still play, almost none of those parameters describe him. Most of it is the opposite of him.

Frank was asked how he saw the team’s vacancy, and he suggested that he would like to see the reconstituted Clippers play a few games before making a decision.

“My instinct is to, let’s see what this looks like and see how this fits,” he said. “We may only have five, six games until the buyout market, when guys have to be bought out or waived before March 1. But I want to let this marinate for a while.”

Yet this Los Angeles basketball team barely waited a second before deciding to sign Los Angeles’ most difficult basketball player.

This is getting wild. This also becomes so unnecessary.

The Clippers are finally on the verge of completely separating their brand from the Lakers.

They don’t have to make the same mistakes.