Prior the start of training camp, Lawrence Frank had said that Isaiah Hartenstein, Harry Giles, and Moses Wright would be competing for the third center role, with Amir Coffey also in the mix for the 15th spot on the roster.
As the preseason went on, it became clear that the center competition would really come down to Hartenstein vs. Giles, and on Saturday, the Clippers made their decision, waiving Giles and keeping Hartenstein. With Serge Ibaka still progressing in his recovery from back surgery, Hartenstein will be the backup center to start the season.
“It was tough because Harry was great,” Ty Lue said before practice Saturday. “Harry did a lot of great things and, you know, he’s definitely an NBA player, I mean, we know that for sure. And we thought Isaiah did a good job as well, you know, so it was a tough decision. Hate to see Harry go because he did some great things for us, like I said, and he’s more advanced than some of our young guys, but it just, it’s tough when you got to come down to the situation when you got to make cuts and, you know, like I said, he’s an NBA player for sure.... But happy for Isaiah as well. He did a good job, he played well, kind of came in and fit in right away with his passing and being able to get guys shots and backdoor cuts for layups and things like that, so they both played well, it was a tough decision.”
The Clippers have been raving about Hartenstein’s passing throughout the preseason, and Lue confirmed that it dates back even further than that. The coach said that Paul George and Luke Kennard were calling him about Hartenstein during their pickup games over the summer, and the Clippers video coordinator Daniel Fitzpatrick even cut up some film from those runs for Lue to take a look at before the team signed Hartenstein.
Hartenstein credits some of that passing flair to lessons he learned from Nikola Jokić during his time in Denver. But for the 23-year-old center, the reason he fits in Los Angeles is because the Clippers let him play free.
“I came out here for a little bit before I made my decision and it was great,” Hartenstein said Saturday. “The organization, top to bottom, the way they played, T-Lue just letting the guys play free. I think that was one of the biggest things for me, was just finding someone that also lets me play my game. I think with Denver and the Rockets I was really looking over my shoulder every game, and it’s hard to play like that, and so now being in a situation where I can just play my game and do whatever the team needs to win.”
As a former role player himself, Lue says he’s been in situation where he felt like he was walking on eggshells and unable to make mistakes. Now, he encourages his players to play hard and compete and not worry about turnovers or missed shots. Make the right play, and you won’t get pulled, even if it doesn’t result in a score.
That style of play brought Hartenstein to Los Angeles, even when he had a guaranteed contract in Cleveland. He declined his player option with the Cavaliers because it wasn’t the right fit. Even though he had to take a risk to compete for a spot with the Clippers, this is a better spot for him.
“I’ve always been confident in my abilities,” Hartenstein said. “I think I’m a good center in the NBA, and that was one reason why I didn’t want to stay in Cleveland even though they treated me really well out there. I just wanted to be in a situation where I could play and really have a chance to prove myself.”
Hartenstein is officially a Clipper, and he’ll have to start proving himself when the regular season tips off this week.