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’ll glance at the player with the briefest Clipper tenure this year: undrafted free agent Malik Fitts.
Weight: 230 lbs.
Years in NBA: 1
Key Stats: In 3 NBA games for the Clippers, played a total of 11 minutes and added 3 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 fouls, hitting 1 of his 2 three-point attempts. In 14 NBA G-League games with the Agua Caliente Clippers of Ontario, Fitts played 26.3 minutes per game and averaged 11.1 points and 4.0 rebounds on 47/35/94 splits.
Contract Status: An undrafted free agent, Fitts was cut in training camp last season before being brought back on a 10-day contract in April. His G-League rights are owned by the Agua Caliente Clippers.
When talking expectations for undrafted free agents that are brought into training camp, there really can’t be any. Every team brings in 3 or 4 guys like Malik Fitts into camp every year and it’s extremely, extremely rare that one impresses enough in those couple of weeks to actually displace a player with a guaranteed contract and earn a spot on the opening night roster. The new two-way contract system the NBA has used in the last few years makes latching on a bit more attainable, as beating out someone like Amir Coffey for that spot would have been a bit easier for the Clippers to accept both strategically and financially than Fitts replacing someone like Patrick Patterson. But it was still only ever a dream scenario for Malik, with his real objective being to make a strong enough impression on the team that they’d consider him a potential fringe roster player for mid-season emergencies or future seasons.
And if that’s a realistic goal for an undrafted free agent in training camp, Malik accomplished it. Once the dust settled on the Clippers’ end-of-roster/hard cap situation late in the season and they finally had the flexibility to utilize their 15th roster spot, the team turned to Malik for forward depth on a 10-day contract. He played sparingly in 3 games for the team, but his actual NBA minutes weren’t what made his journey this year a success–it was doing enough in camp and with Agua Caliente that the front office and coaching staff selected him for that NBA opportunity. Ty Lue praised his ability to defend both forward spots in and hit threes in camp, which may have been the biggest factor in his inclusion in the team months later. Unfortunately for both Malik and the Clippers, shortly after he signed his 10-day contract Patrick Beverley suffered a broken hand. As a result, the team opted not to retain Fitts for a second 10-day or rest-of-season deal, instead replacing him with additional guard depth in the form of Yogi Ferrell. But had circumstances been different and not forced LAC’s hand into needing an additional guard, Malik could have easily found himself with the Clippers for the remainder of the year and during the playoffs.
Future with Clippers
Malik has no easily mappable trajectory for a potential future with the Clippers, as he has no contract or free agent rights with the team that make a reunion unlikely and he is clearly an extremely low-priority free agent (while Lue may have praised him, if the Clippers liked Malik that much they could have made sure to keep a hold of him instead of cutting him in camp in December and then allowing his 10-day deal to end in April). But it’s certainly possible, since we know the Clippers do like Malik as a potential fringe roster option, that he could wind up filling a vacant two-way contract spot this off-season if the team moves Amir Coffey onto the 15-man roster or otherwise loses him in free agency. Even if no big, exciting Clipper future is in store for Malik, it does seem likely that he’s a guy who will hang around in their system, playing summer league and g-league ball and hoping for another 10-day or 2-way opportunity, until he gets an offer from another team or moves overseas.
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