Russell Westbrook opts in with Clippers, Paul George declines

Los Angeles Clippers' Paul George (13) looks to pass the ball as Los Angeles Clippers' Moussa Diabate (25) and Kobe Brown (21) defend during the second half of Game 2 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series in Dallas, Friday, April 26, 2024. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

All-Star forward Paul George has informed the Clippers that he is opting out of his contract for $48.7 million and will become an unrestricted free agent, people not authorized to speak publicly on the matter told The Times on Saturday afternoon.

George is expected to meet with teams that have salary-cap space, perhaps as early as Sunday when NBA free agency opens at 3 p.m. PDT.

Earlier Saturday, Russell Westbrook picked up his player option for $4 million and will return for the 2024-25 season, a person not authorized to speak on the matter confirmed.

George and the Philadelphia 76ers have been linked as potential partners, according to people not authorized to speak on the matter. The 76ers can offer George up to $212 million over four years, and the two sides are expected to meet soon to discuss a deal.

The Orlando Magic also have the same amount to spend as the 76ers, and they also are interested in George.

A person close to George, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the matter, said they “wouldn’t put anyone as the front-runner right now” because he wants to go through the process.

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George, who is from Palmdale, was excited to come to Los Angeles in 2019 when the Clippers acquired him in a trade so his family could see him play.

“He’s going to look at everything, figure out what the best spot is for him,” the person said. “Look, he’s also got a lot of love for the Clippers. But he’s also got to look at everything. Everyone just thinks that, ‘Oh, he definitely would stay home.’ He has to look at what’s best for him, including the Clippers, and then figure things out.”

George was eligible to get a four-year, $221-million extension from the Clippers.

After Kawhi Leonard agreed during the season to a three-year extension for $152 million, the Clippers were willing to offer George the same contract but the two sides couldn’t agree on a deal.

The Clippers were prepared for George, 34, to make any decision.

“We hope Paul’s decision is to be here,” Lawrence Frank, the Clippers’ president of basketball operations, said Thursday night. “He’s been awesome. He’s been an All-Star three of the five years. He’s one of the best two-way players in the league. He’s a terrific person. He’s got a great family, so we hope he’s here. But also respect the fact that if he chooses to opt out, that’s his choice. He’s earned it and we’ll see how things play out.”

George, a nine-time All-Star, played in 74 games last season, the most he had played since joining the Clippers. He averaged 22.6 points and 5.2 rebounds while shooting a career-high 41.3% from three-point range.

He averaged 19.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists in the first-round series against Dallas.

George played a pivotal role in the Clippers reaching their first-ever Western Conference finals in 2021.

Westbrook, a nine-time All-Star, averaged 11.1 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game last season. He shot 45.4% from the field, but just 27.3% from three-point range.

Clippers guard Russell Westbrook brings the ball up court against the Charlotte Hornets
Clippers guard Russell Westbrook averaged 11.1 points per game, 5.0 rebounds and 4.5 assists last season when primarily coming off the bench. (Nell Redmond / Associated Press)

But in a first-round playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks, he averaged just 6.3 points and shot 26% from the field, 23.5% from three-point range.

After the Clippers acquired James Harden in late October, Westbrook went to the bench and was productive in that role, which he did not oppose unlike when he played for the Lakers.

Forward P.J. Tucker opted into his player option for $11.5 million on Friday and will return to the Clippers.

Also, according to a person not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, the Clippers signed Trentyn Flowers to a two-way contract. Flowers, an athletic 6-7 wing player, played last season in Australia.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.