With roughly five weeks to go before the start of training camp (September 28), the L.A. Clippers pretty much know what their roster will look like for 2021-22.
All three draft picks have been signed. Reggie Jackson and Nicolas Batum are back, as are Kawhi Leonard and Serge Ibaka, though in Leonard’s case, only as an expensive member of the payroll until at least March. Patrick Beverley, Rajon Rondo and Daniel Oturu are gone, replaced by point guard Eric Bledsoe, and forward Justise Winslow will get a chance in L.A. to revive a career that has been marred by injuries since being drafted 10th overall by Miami in 2018.
There is, however, still one question left to be answered when it comes to the roster: What to do with backup point guard Yogi Ferrell?
Deck Stacked Against Ferrell
Heading into his sixth NBA season after going undrafted out of Indiana in 2016, Ferrell’s days in L.A. could be numbered. The Clippers have the roster space to accommodate Ferrell, but two factors are working hand-in-hand against the 28-year old.
One is that Ferrell, who was signed to a 10-day contract near the end of last season, is on a non-guaranteed deal for 2021-22 (with no deadline), meaning the Clippers can waive him cost-free whenever they want. The other is that he’s a small guard on a team already overloaded with guards and wings. Ferrell is behind Bledsoe and rookie Jason Preston on the point guard depth chart and, unlike Jackson, is not a consistently good enough shooter to justify moving over to the two spot as needed. Last season, in eight games, Ferrell shot just 33.3% from the field and 31.6% from three, both well below his career averages of 42.0% and 36.5%.
Not only that, the Clippers are conspicuously thin on the inside. Ivica Zubac and Ibaka, the only two true centers on the team, are both entering the season with injury question marks, and though Marcus Morris and Batum did well in small-ball lineups during the playoffs, they ain’t spring chickens (Morris is 31, Batum 32) and would benefit from having another big body to eat up minutes during the regular season.
For the 6-foot Ferrell, having the most dispensable contract on a team in need of more size is not exactly something he should include on rental applications. And while he does have above-average quickness and the bragging rights of not committing a turnover in 96 total minutes with the Clippers last season — both of which head coach Ty Lue, a former point guard himself, surely values — that’s not likely to be enough to keep him aboard.
In the event Ferrell is waived, the question then becomes who will take his spot?
Clippers Limited in Their Options
Given the Clippers’ financial situation, outside of an unlikely trade, they would be limited to signing a free agent to a league-minimum deal.
If the Clippers wanted to continue their trend of bringing back players from last season, they could look to 30-year-old DeMarcus Cousins. Once a premier center in the league, Cousins, like Ferrell, joined the team last season on a 10-day contract (two, in fact) before signing for the remainder of the season. Unlike Ferrell though, Cousins saw time in the playoffs and showed that he can still make noise offensively. In Game 6 of the Western Conference finals against Phoenix, Cousins scored 15 points in just 11 minutes.
Defense, however, was a problem for Cousins whenever he stepped on the floor (despite a willingness to take charges), and at times his shot selection left much to be desired. But Cousins would have a head start on L.A.’s playbook over an outsider and he appeared fully bought in on the Clippers culture after years of being a disruptive figure.
7-footer Isaiah Hartenstein is also a possibility. A second-round pick of Houston’s in 2017, Hartenstein spent last year in Denver and Cleveland, and was productive in limited minutes, shooting 56.6% from the floor and averaging 12.0 rebounds per 36 minutes. At just 23, the left-handed Hartenstein is relatively athletic for his size and has shown an ability to play off the pick-and-roll and finish amidst contact. In July, he declined his $1.7 million player option with Cleveland and a week later the Cavs, who drafted center Evan Mobley No. 3 overall, declined to extend Hartenstein a qualifying offer. Cleveland.com’s Chris Fedor reported that the Clippers were in attendance for Hartenstein’s open workout last week in Vegas, while also noting that re-signing with Cleveland is a possibility.
Bismack Biyombo and Harry Giles have also been mentioned as possibilities for the Clippers. The 6-foot-8 Biyombo played in 66 games for Charlotte last season — his 10th in the league — and averaged 5.3 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 20.4 minutes. Giles, who was the nation’s top recruit out of high school, according to ESPN, and was the 20th overall pick out of Duke in 2017, was little used last year in Portland, seeing only 9.2 minutes in 38 games.
While Biyombo is probably on the back end of his career, Giles is still viewed by some as a work in progress. He has the potential to become an effective outside threat (he shot 34.8% on 23 attempts from three last season) and Giles also possesses the athleticism to defend against the pick-and-roll, which Zubac struggled with at times last season, particularly in the postseason.