Russell Westbrook‘s name was met with boos when mentioned during pregame introductions at the Delta Center. However, behind closed doors, Westbrook smiled at the thought of the Utah Jazz. He expressed his gratitude towards the team for various reasons.
These days, Westbrook is often seen smiling. Since joining the Clippers, the 35-year-old point guard has found a place where he feels comfortable and surrounded by people he likes and wants to be around. This change can be attributed to his signing with the Clippers on February 20, where he immediately felt a sense of belonging with teammates like Paul George and coach Tyronn Lue.
However, Westbrook’s journey to the Clippers would not have been possible without the assistance of the Jazz. The Jazz acquired Westbrook in a trade on February 8 and bought out the remaining amount on his $47-million salary from last season. This move paved the way for Westbrook to become a free agent, sign with Los Angeles, and embark on a late-stage career revival.
Although his time with the Jazz lasted only 12 days, Westbrook seriously considered remaining with the team. He expressed his willingness to do whatever was asked of him, including serving as a mentor to the younger players. Westbrook remained in Los Angeles after the trade, engaging in conversations with the Jazz’s coach, assistants, players, basketball executive Danny Ainge, and owner Ryan Smith.
Ultimately, Westbrook’s desire to join a playoff contender led him to choose the Clippers over the rebuilding Jazz. While the Jazz couldn’t offer guaranteed minutes or playoff contention, they made it clear that Westbrook was always welcome if he chose to report.
As a coach, Will Hardy wanted to ensure that Westbrook knew how much he respected him as a player. He emphasized his availability for any conversations or questions Westbrook had about the team. Westbrook appreciated the honesty and openness displayed by the Jazz.
Westbrook had never experienced a midseason trade or a buyout before. As a max-contract player and one of the NBA’s greatest, he felt confident that he would land with another team due to the interest expressed by the Clippers and others. However, before moving on, he had to decide whether staying in Utah made more sense.
Ultimately, Westbrook found his place with the Clippers, where he feels comfortable and supported. His time with the Jazz will be remembered as a footnote in his 15th NBA season, overshadowed by the turmoil with the Lakers and the subsequent resurgence with the Clippers.
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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.
Source: Los Angeles Times