Going into their final preseason game tonight in Denver, the Los Angeles Clippers have trimmed their roster down to 16, one more than the maximum allowed for the regular season. They got down to 16 today by waiving camp signees Hank Thorns and Trent Plaisted.
When the Clippers first signed five free agents to bring into training camp, we knew right away that there was a next-to-zero chance that any of them would make the team. Of those five, only Marqus Blakely remains, and indeed he was the one I singled out back in late September as having a remote chance of sticking around.
In fact, both Blakely and second year player Travis Leslie may be in a similar situation. The Clippers have generally preferred to enter the season with 14 players under contract as opposed to the maximum 15, keeping one roster spot open to provide flexibility to make a move in season. Leslie is under contract, but it's unclear exactly how much of his contract is guaranteed. The Clippers must cut at least one more player before the season starts, and that player will certainly be either Blakely or Leslie and will most likely be Blakely. They may very well choose to cut both of them in order to get the roster down to 15.
Leslie actually had a decent game against the Lakers last night, scoring six crucial points in succession when the game got close in the fourth quarter. He's a tremendous athlete with long arms, and has shown some moments on defense, including a key steal and several deflections last night. But he generally seems overwhelmed on the offensive end and has had trouble finishing plays around the basket despite his athleticism.
If Leslie has an NBA ready wing body, Blakely is even more impressive. He's just as athletic, a couple inches taller, bigger, and his arms are even longer. He has a real chance to be a great NBA defender; but as a former college power forward, he still has a long way to go to be able to play the wing in the NBA without being an offensive liability. Unfortunately, he has gotten much opportunity to prove himself this preseason. He may get one last chance tonight in Denver.
We'll find out soon enough if either of these two youngsters will make the team, but it remains the longest of long shots for Blakely.