The more things change the more they stay the same.
On Friday, L.A. Clippers president of basketball operations, Lawrence Frank, announced that 6-foot-7 forward Amir Coffey is re-joining the team ahead of training camp on a two-way deal. (Guard Jay Scrubb will occupy the other two-way spot.)
Coffey is the fifth free agent — alongside Kawhi Leonard, Serge Ibaka, Reggie Jackson and Nicolas Batum — from last year’s Western Conference finals team to re-sign with L.A. this offseason. He became a restricted free agent in late July when the Clippers extended him a $1.4 million qualifying offer.
Frank made the announcement during a virtual press conference and stated, somewhat shockingly, that Coffey would be in contention for L.A.’s fifteenth and final roster spot — heretofore assumed to be a narrow competition between big men Harry Giles, Isaiah Hartenstein and, to a lesser extent, rookie Moses Wright, for third-fiddle behind centers Ivica Zubac and Serge Ibaka.
“It’s exciting because when you have an open roster spot, what it lends to is great competition,” Frank said. “You have Amir, who will be signing a two-way today, but he will be competing for that open roster spot. You have Isaiah Hartenstein and Harry Giles and Moses (Wright) competing for a third center spot, so to speak.”
Poor Summer League Limited Coffey’s Options
Undrafted out of Minnesota in 2019, Coffey has been a two-way player with the Clippers for both his seasons in the league. After seeing time in just 18 games his rookie year, Coffey’s exposure jumped to 44 games in 2020-21 and he finished the regular season averaging 3.2 points, 1.0 rebounds and 0.5 assists while shooting 43.3% from the field and 38.7% from behind the arc. He saw time in 10 of the Clippers’ 19 playoff games this last postseason, but never in anything approaching crucial minutes.
Heading into this offseason, with his two-year two-way contract at its completion and lacking any sort of assurances from the Clippers, Coffey had hoped to raise his stock around the NBA with a strong showing at the Vegas Summer League.
But far from placing himself in the coveted “too good for Summer League” category, Coffey shot poorly from the get-go in Sin City (just around 33%) and few reports emerged indicating interest from other teams. Even so, Clippers’ Summer League coach, Jeremy Castleberry, believed Coffey brought more than what the stats may have suggested.
“He was more vocal, he was really good on defense — chasing, blowing picks up, being in his weakside spots and being strong,” Castleberry told the Los Angeles Times. “A lot of people would probably suggest that maybe he didn’t have a strong summer as he wanted to due to what took place on the offensive end. But if you go look at the film and look at what he was capable of doing on the defensive end, I think it would tell another story.”
Ibaka, Leonard Not yet Ready for Action
While fans of Coffey were surely pleased with Frank’s decision to re-up the 24-year-old southpaw (perhaps no one more than pun-loving Clippers television announcer Brian Siemen), it would be utterly shocking if Coffey landed the final roster spot over Giles or Hartenstein. Particularly in light of the news that Ibaka, who underwent back surgery in June, will begin training camp in non-contact drills.
“We’ll just assess [Ibaka’s] progress and where he’s going once we introduce contact at a certain point,” Frank said Friday. “We’ll be in a small group, probably one-on-one focus, and then build up to that, see how he responds to it. So we’ll just take it in phases.”
Though that may not sound terrible on the surface, Frank’s timeline certainly doesn’t indicate Ibaka returning to live-action anytime soon, meaning the Clippers will need to prioritize adding a center more than ever.
But Ibaka is not the only Clipper ailing. There’s also, of course, Leonard, who Frank said “has a very detailed plan with a great group” but acknowledged that “no one knows” when the seven-time All-Defensive forward will return following July surgery to repair a partially torn ACL. (Spoiler: It won’t be for a good long time, perhaps the entire season.)
Leonard’s absence, combined with a recent foot injury to rookie point guard Jason Preston, may open the door for considerably more minutes from Coffey, even from the two-way spot.
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