We’re continuing our 213Hoops Exit Interview series, where we go player-by-player through the Clippers’ roster and break down how each player on the team performed relative to their pre-season expectations, and ponder their future with the team. Today, we’re wrapping up the series with Mfiondu Kabengele, who the team traded mid-season.
Weight: 250 lbs.
Years in NBA: 2
Key Stats: In 23 games with the Clippers, played 4.1 minutes per game and averaged 1.2 points and 0.6 rebounds on 28.1/22.2/83.3 shooting splits. In 16 games with the Cleveland Cavaliers, played 11.6 minutes per game and averaged 4.3 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 0.8 assists on 42.1/28.1/78.6 shooting splits.
Contract Status: Originally a first-round draft pick by the Clippers in 2019, Fi had his third-year option declined by the team before the start of last season. His expiring deal was traded to the Sacramento Kings mid-season, who cut him. He then signed on with the Cleveland Cavaliers, where he has a non-guaranteed contract for next season and is likely to be cut in training camp with an outside shot at making the roster.
The expectation for Fi heading into the 2020-21 NBA season was that he would be gone from the team by mid-season, but that doesn’t make his overall 2-year arc with the Clippers less of a staggering disappointment. The team took him at the tail end of the first round in the 2019 NBA Draft, envisioning a floor-spacing big man with the athleticism to be a valuable weak-side shot-blocker. The comparisons were somewhere between a younger Serge Ibaka (springy, shot-blocking 4/5, though he’s a few inches smaller than Serge and nobody expected him to reach Serge’s quality) and a more agile Mo Speights, given Mo’s reputation as a black hole offensively who could provide jumpshooting from the center position. But beyond needing some time to develop a well-rounded skillset, Fi never really demonstrated an NBA skill level (even as a supposed shooter, he routinely threw up ugly misses on open, garbage time looks) or feel for the game suitable for this level. And so already, coming into his second season, the Clippers gave up on Kabengele’s future with the team and declined his third-year team option, setting themselves up to trade him mid-season to create extra flexibility under the hard cap.
That was exactly what ended up happening, to nobody’s surprise. After appearing only in garbage time for the first half of the season, Fi was flipped to Sacramento in what was essentially a free salary dump. LAC sent the Kings Atlanta’s top-55 protected 2022 2nd round pick, while the Kings sent the Clippers their own top-55 protected 2022 2nd round pick. Both selections are unlikely to convey, though a Hawks top-5 finish next season seems at least possible while the Kings posting a leading record does not. The Clippers also sent the Kings $2,744,238–covering the checks Sacramento would have to write for Fi’s remaining salary for the 2021 season and including additional compensation to make the deal worth the Kings’ while. The best part of the trade from LA’s perspective was that they were able to move Fi’s money off the books without having to attach a basketball asset. Teams have an allowance of tradeable cash that resets each season, making that payment significantly preferable to including a future 2nd rounder.
Future with Clippers
It’s not hard to figure that Fi likely has no future with the Clippers. It’s probably unlikely that he has a substantial NBA future to begin with–there’s a chance that he makes Cleveland’s roster in training camp next season just because they’re resigned to being terrible and will be willing to keep around long-shot young players, but I still expect him to be released in favor for someone who shows a little more potential. At the point that he leaves Cleveland, it seems likely that Kabengele will move forward in his career in another league. It’s possible that another NBA team gives him a tryout, but the least likely team to do so is the Clippers–they already had him around for over a year and very clearly determined that they didn’t think he warranted keeping around.
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