According to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, the LA Clippers have agreed to trade Mfiondu Kabengele to the Sacramento Kings. As part of the deal, the two teams swapped heavily-protected future second round draft picks, and the Clippers provided the Kings with cash considerations.
The Clippers moving on from Fi at this trade deadline was inevitable. Despite trading a future first-round pick (and a 2nd round pick) to acquire the 27th pick in the 2019 NBA Draft to select him, the Clippers declined Kabengele’s third-year team option before the start of this season, essentially giving up on an experiment they deemed worthy of a first-round selection just 18 months later. While today’s trade is the right move for the team, it also eliminates any possibility of redemption for a major gaffe–not only wasting a first-round pick on a player who wasn’t even serviceable in a depth role, but wanting that player so badly that you traded a future first to get into the 2019 Draft to take him, and then missing so badly that it was obvious within a year that he had no NBA future.
But setting aside the terrible asset management and scouting that led to the Clippers trading for Kabengele on draft night, today’s deal makes substantial sense for the club. As I wrote a week ago, LAC enters this trade deadline with extremely limited financial wiggle room under the NBA’s hard cap–just $539k. That’s enough money to sign one rest-of-season deal in the Clippers’ vacant 15th roster spot, but they still would have been wasting a spot on Fi, and if they cut Fi outright they wouldn’t have had enough money to fill his spot with a player for their playoff run. By trading Kabengele, and moving his $2M in salary to the Sacramento Kings’ books, the Clippers have freed up more than enough space to add two players to rest-of-season contracts during buyout season in order to shore up their depth heading into the postseason.
That money could also be used to take back a little bit of extra salary in a trade over the next couple of days. The 2021 NBA Trade Deadline is Thursday at 3PM Eastern Time, and the Clippers have been loosely linked to a number of players, including Lonzo Ball and George Hill. In the case of players like Ball, or Raptors guard Norman Powell, who make more than Lou Williams’ $8M expiring deal, that extra wiggle room could help make a trade possible.
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