Although the injury to Kawhi Leonard has essentially written the book on what the Los Angeles Clippers‘ 2021-22 season can be, it’s not the only one making a major impact. Serge Ibaka’s late debut and continuing effort to rediscover himself have also loomed large.
The key difference, though, is that no one can really replace Kawhi — Ibaka’s production has been almost accounted for thanks to strong starts from Ivica Zubac and Isaiah Hartenstein.
Where the former is concerned, Clippers fans probably weren’t shocked when he turned it up a few notches. Zubac has started a ton of games for Los Angeles over the last two-plus years and had always been a steady hand in the pivot. Hartenstein is different, though.
The former second-round pick joined the Clippers on a training camp deal. And he had to beat out Harry Giles, who may have been a high lottery pick three years ago if not for injuries, to earn his spot. Regardless, he has emerged to average 7.4 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.1 blocks through 21 games while shooting 64.4% from the field.
He has been so good, in fact, that he may be on track not only to get his deal guaranteed but to make more than the Clippers can afford to pay in the offseason.
HoopsHype Pod Talks Hartenstein’s Ascension
On the December 1 episode of The HoopsHype Podcast, Michael Scotto and Yossi Gozlan discussed the players who are eligible to be traded on December 15th, as well as some who may be playing themselves into better situations.
The hoops scribes agreed that Hartenstein fits the bill in the latter department, with Scotto taking note of how the big man’s summer gamble has paid off.
“Before Isaiah Hartenstein hit the market and signed with the Clippers, he could’ve opted into a minimum guaranteed deal with the Cavaliers,” Scotto reminded. “He would’ve had a tough time playing in Cleveland. Kevin Love is back, and you’ve seen the tandem they have in Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley.”
The Cavs’ frontcourt crunch notwithstanding, guaranteed money is guaranteed money, and that’s not what Hartenstein got from the Clippers. Regardless, he made the team, he’s making an impression and he may have secured himself a roster spot for the remainder of the campaign, too.
“To me, he’s put himself in a position to have his contract guaranteed as long as he keeps playing this way and put himself in a position to make money this offseason,” Scotto opined.
While his strong play has been a boon to the Clippers, it presents some issues given that the team is already committed to doling out well over $160 million in player salaries next season, however.
Get all the latest Clippers news, analysis and viral content! Follow the Heavy on Clippers Facebook page!
Gozlan: Clippers Probably Can’t Keep Him Long-Term
For his part, Gozlan agreed with his cohort, noting that player salary models have Hartenstein outperforming his payday by a significant margin.
“ProFitX has Hartenstein with a real-time contract of $7.5 million, which is basically what Ivica Zubac is making right now,” Gozlan noted. “He’s been a really effective rim protector for the Clippers… I think he’s definitely going to get guaranteed and will be on the roster past the cutdown date.”
He went on to say that Hartenstein has been so good, that keeping him will be problematic for LA.
“The Clippers do have a little bit of an issue retaining him,” he said. “He’s got non-Bird Rights, and he’s making the minimum. The most they could pay him is just a little bit over the minimum. If he keeps this up, he’s going to be getting offers, maybe not in the $7.5 million range like ProFitX has him, but if he gets anything close to that, the Clippers will have a problem keeping him. They’d have to dig into their mid-level exception, and they already have a lot of tax issues.”
The Clippers may be wise to get something out of him post-December 15 before any of that comes to pass.