In a bit of surprise, it was reported today by Andrew Greif of the L.A. Times that the Clippers will not be picking up their team option for the third year of Mfiondu Kabengele’s contract. Today was the final day for the Clippers to make the decision on last year’s first-round pick. Since they declined to exercise the option, Kabengele will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason.
The Clippers are not picking up their third-year option on center Mfiondu Kabengele. Today was the deadline to make a decision. Kabengele was the 27th pick in the 2019 draft. He could still be back with the team next year, but he'll obviously be evaluated as the year goes on.— Andrew Greif (@AndrewGreif) December 30, 2020
Kabengele’s option for next season was worth $2,174,880. By clearing his contract from the books, the Clippers can replace him with a player at the veteran’s minimum and save about half a million towards the hard cap if that is a consideration. The Clippers could also choose to re-sign Kabengele if he impresses this season, but they would be limited by a starting salary equal to the value of Kabengele’s option.
However, the fact that the Clippers weren’t interested in the cost control of Kabengele’s existing contract suggests that that the 23-year-old will have to significantly outperform expectations to get back into the team’s future plans. The last time the Clippers declined a player’s third-year option was for Brice Johnson, and he was swiftly on his way out of town.
It seemed like Kabengele was on track to carve out a larger role this season after not being with the team during the bubble restart in Orlando. He had some nice moments in preseason, showing off his shooting stroke and rim protection. He even stood up to Rudy Gobert at the basket during the team’s preseason game against Utah. However, that apparently wasn’t enough to convince the Clippers of Kabengele’s utility.
There isn’t a long track record of players who had their third-year options declined and still had quality NBA careers. It’s hard enough to find players whose fourth-year options weren’t picked up who still stuck in the league, and their teams at least showed an extra year of faith in them. This isn’t a great sign for Kabengele, and it’s another ding on the Clippers’ poor drafting record. Hopefully, their 2020 center pick is more promising.