The Clippers entered NBA free agency open to retaining certain elements of last season’s roster while also seeking other qualities it lacked.
In two moves Saturday, the Clippers tried to address both.
Russell Westbrook, who became the team’s starting point guard the moment he joined the team in February, is returning after agreeing to a two-year contract worth just shy of $8 million. The team later traded a pair of future second-round draft picks to Houston to acquire forward K.J. Martin, a bouncy, high-energy leaper the team valued because his mix of size and athleticism is something the Clippers’ forward rotation pointedly lacked.
Westbrook’s deal will have a player option in the second season, according to a person with knowledge of the terms. The person could not comment publicly because deals cannot become official across the league until Thursday. The Clippers were limited to offering Westbrook $3.8 million in the first season because they did not hold rights that would allow them to exceed the salary cap to bring him back.
That left open the threat of another team swooping in with a more lucrative offer after Westbrook’s often strong play with the Clippers exceeded expectations. Westbrook shot 49% from the field for the Clippers after shooting 41% last season with the Lakers; his turnovers and assists stayed the same.
Ultimately, as the market for point guards began to shrink Saturday, Westbrook opted to stay in his hometown with a team where he has said he felt “grateful” to be appreciated after a rocky Lakers tenure. He now has a longer time frame in which to pair with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
Westbrook played with the Clippers’ stars for all of 10 games and 230 minutes before late-season injuries derailed their playoff hopes. George lobbied in February for the Clippers to sign Westbrook and reiterated his belief in April that Westbrook was “the leader that we need at the point guard position going forward.”
That was before the team was in position to potentially land Philadelphia’s James Harden via trade. It raises the question of how Clippers coach Tyronn Lue would fit both the ball-dominant Westbrook and Harden together should Philadelphia agree to trade Harden.
With limited draft assets with which to improve their roster, the Clippers used a 2026 second-round pick and a 2027 second-round pick from the Memphis Grizzlies to acquire Martin, who played part of high school at Chatsworth Sierra Canyon. He is the son of former NBA player Kenyon Martin, whose coach with the New Jersey Nets, Lawrence Frank, made the trade for the younger Martin as the Clippers’ president of basketball operations.
After averaging 12.7 points and 5.5 rebounds in 82 games in his third NBA season with the Rockets, Martin is entering the fourth and final year of his rookie contract, and the Clippers will have his Bird rights next season, which will allow the team to exceed the salary cap to re-sign him. At 22, he is still one year younger than the team’s most recent draft picks, who were introduced Saturday before the team practiced ahead of Las Vegas Summer League.
Growing up in Huntsville, Ala., as the son of a high school coach, 30th overall pick Kobe Brown played point guard before a growth spurt that left him 6-foot-6 ½ without shoes and a nearly 7-1 wingspan. As a bigger player who bounced between playing forward and center, he has still retained the ability to read defenses as a passer. Charlton Young, an assistant who coached Brown his final year of college at Missouri — and previously mentored Clippers wing Terance Mann at Florida State — likened Brown’s rugged physicality and ability to get downhill to Jamal Mashburn, Julius Randle and Anthony Mason.
Missouri’s coaches worked with Brown to improve his balance when shooting and his footwork to land more consistently. His three-point shooting, no better than 25% his first three seasons at Missouri, jumped to 45.5% last season.
“I’m not going out there looking to score 40 points a game or whatnot,” Brown said. “I just want to win. Wherever the team needs me that night is where I want to be.”
Jordan Miller, a 6-5 wing picked 48th, spent five years in college and did 14 draft workouts in recent weeks — but none for the Clippers. Yet the team knew much about him. His college coach during two previous seasons at Miami, Jim Larrananga, is the father of Clippers assistant Jay Larranaga. The Hurricanes rarely ran plays for Miller, yet his cutting off the ball allowed him to average 15.3 points on last season’s Final Four team.
Told the Clippers had drafted a Jordan and a Kobe, Miller said it was “just hilarious.”
“As funny as it is, we just want to come here, hit the ground running, build a name for ourselves so hopefully next time when you hear Jordan, Kobe, you're thinking of us,” he said, an already wide smile growing. He quickly added: “No, I'm just playing!”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.