Per Andrew Greif of the LA Times, the Clippers will decline the 3rd year option of 2019 1st round pick Mfiondu Kabengele, making him an unrestricted free agent this summer. Kabengele has played just 81 minutes in his NBA career thus far, all in garbage time, and has not been close to being trusted as a rotation option by either Doc Rivers or Ty Lue.
All that said, even guys who barely play early in their careers or are really bad when they do play usually get their third-year options picked up. It’s extremely rare for these to be declined, as they are highly cost effective (except for all but the very highest draft picks), and the players are all still young enough to make strides. In other words, if teams decline a player’s third year option, it means they do not see them as part of their future.
The Clippers have discussed how much they like Kabengele, and between that and the sheer rarity, their choice to decline his option is a bit of a surprise. Mfiondu seems like a very likable guy and is noted by all as a hard worker. Apparently, that was not enough for the Clippers to keep him another year – again, a sign of how far away they think he is.
Now, teams declining options does not necessarily mean that player is gone. Those players are free agents, and sometimes re-sign with the same teams. The Clippers could do the same for Mfiondu, and bring him back on a cheaper deal next year, but it seems unlikely. Part of the reason they probably are looking to move on is to add more NBA-ready players to the end of their roster – they don’t have much room for prospect development right now. Drafting Daniel Oturu 33rd in the 2020 Draft was a sign that the Clippers might have soured on Fi, but it’s all just very quick.
By declining Fi’s option, the Clippers have also turned him into an expiring contract. That means he’s a very likely candidate to get traded mid-season for cash or a future protected 2nd round pick, opening up a roster spot and cap room to sign a veteran off the waiver wire. The Clippers have been thin at big man so far, and that’s a likely spot for them to shore up.
This might not actually be goodbye for Mfiondu, but it sure feels like it. Considering the Clippers traded a 2020 1st round pick to select him at 27th in 2019, a pick which ended up being 19th in this draft, it’s hard not to see him not just as a bust but as a major waste of resources. Hopefully he is able to stick in the NBA (again, he’s a great dude), but it’s looking like it won’t be with the Clippers.