According to The Athletic’s Kelly Iko, the Clippers have extended “an offer” to free agent center Moses Brown. It’s unclear what exactly the offer is, or if Brown is going to accept it.
Based on Brown’s status in the league, it appears likely that this will be a training camp invite. Last season, the Clippers opted to leave their 15th roster spot open and bring two young centers, Isaiah Hartenstein and Harry Giles, in to compete for the spot. That strategy was an unquestioned success, maybe even too successful–Hartenstein had a phenomenal season for the Clippers and played himself out of their price range. If Brown does accept this offer, I would guess that it’s for a similar arrangement: he comes into LAC training camp this fall to compete with a yet-to-be-determined big man for the final roster spot. Brown, currently 22, will turn 23 this fall and has one year of two-way contract eligibility remaining. However, the Clippers already have a two-way spot committed to rookie big man Moussa Diabate and have multiple undrafted free agents on exhibit 10 deals auditioning for their second two-way spot in Summer League. With a pressing need for a big man for the 15th roster spot, it feels more likely that Brown would compete for that job–although the door is open for him to join on a two-way instead.
Brown has always generated a bit of buzz on NBA Twitter due to his size and play above the rim. Two years ago, he was a consistently featured player on the Oklahoma City Thunder after the trade deadline–remember, the Oklahoma City Thunder have spent the last few years shutting down any capable performers at the deadline and trying to lose games on purpose to get better draft positioning–and put up some huge numbers, including a 21-point/23-rebound effort (in a blowout loss) and an infamous 24-point, 18-rebound, 7-block game against the Clippers… when LAC intentionally threw the final game of the season to manipulate playoff seeding and Ty Lue sabotaged the team down the stretch by running the offense through Daniel Oturu. Overall, his per-minute stats have been staggering, with 15 points and 15 rebounds per 36 throughout his career, including 18 points and 15 rebounds per 36 minutes for the Cleveland Cavaliers late last season when he was signed as frontcourt depth to cover for injuries. Like I opened with, his play above the rim has always generated a lot of hype, with putback dunks and emphatic blocks against hopeless smaller opponents in a fashion reminiscent of former Clipper Boban Marjanovic.
But if you get a layer deeper, things start to get really troubling. Despite his size and highlights, he’s actually not a great finisher around the rim, making just 62.8% of his shot attempts inside 3 feet in his 3-year NBA career (and 64.2% last season with Dallas and Cleveland). For reference, Clippers center Ivica Zubac, who is not exactly celebrated for his above-the-rim finishing, shot 71.5% at the rim last season. When it’s not a dunk, it gets even worse: Brown has only made around 40% of his layup attempts in the NBA, according to basketball-reference, and is a career 29-87 (33.3%) on shots from between 3 and 10 feet (again, for reference, Zubac was 100-194, 51.5% last season). There is really very little offensive skill to speak of aside from being very tall. While his size makes him a legitimately good rebounder and solid deterrent at the rim, Brown has also proven to be a negative defensively at the NBA level due to his inability to defend in space and poor positioning, though perhaps in a manner that is easier to get away with in regular season second-unit and garbage time minutes. At each of his 4 stops, Moses’ teams have been worse with him on the floor, sometimes in significant fashion:
The column on the left is his team’s +/- per 100 possessions when Brown plays, while the column on the right is the difference between the team’s +/- per 100 possessions when he is on the floor compared to when he is off the court. So while the numbers on the left aren’t necessarily his fault–he’s been on some bad teams, including playing most of his minutes on a blatantly taking Thunder squad–it’s notable that every team he’s been on has dropped a level when he’s stepped on the court. Where he does add value, courtesy of his size, is as a roll man and rebounder. He’s just simply too big to ignore diving to the rim on the screen-and-roll, and like former Clippers center DeAndre Jordan (though he has nowhere near the explosive leaping and finishing ability of prime DeAndre) he makes for a pretty big target to just throw the ball up for a dunk if the defense doesn’t stay home. That can open up space for a ballhandler to turn the corner and get dribble penetration, and it has created easy buckets at times–just never consistently enough to actually positively impact games for his teams.
It’s easy to compare Brown to Isaiah Hartenstein–both are younger players coming (if Brown comes) to the Clippers relatively unproven, both are vying to prove themselves in training camp (if that is indeed what Moses’ contract is), both played a half-season for the Cleveland Cavaliers before becoming free agents and coming to LAC. I would resist that urge for a few reasons, first because Hartenstein was a massive success and even imagining that the Clippers could win a buy-low move for Moses in similar fashion is a combination of unrealistic and unfair, but also because unlike Moses, Isaiah had proven his ability to help teams win NBA basketball games but had struggled to stay healthy and find a consistent role behind star bigs. Moses has actually played more NBA minutes than Hart had before joining the Clippers, he just hasn’t been nearly as good in his 1,300 pre-Clippers minutes as Hartenstein was. And we all love Isaiah’s passing ability, so it’s worth noting that Moses had 0 assists in 176 minutes for Cleveland last year.
So while Brown has struggled to be an effective NBA player up to this point in his career, he certainly has intrigue because of his above-average size for an NBA center and above-the-rim play. I’m a little low on him for a full NBA roster spot, especially considering that the Clippers seem likely to only carry two centers next season (they’ll play Nicolas Batum and Robert Covington as the backup “bigs,” but the spot Brown would slot into would be LAC’s only “true big” insurance for Ivica Zubac), but I certainly think the consensus is that he belongs in an NBA training camp and will continue to get cups of coffee in the league, even if he’s probably more of a G-League All-Star than an NBA backup C. At just 22 years old, he certainly has room for improvement, and it’s certainly worth noting that it’s incredibly rare to find this combination of youth and NBA experience in an unrestricted free agent for the minimum salary (the other side of that coin is he could have been a restricted free agent this year, but Cleveland chose to not extend a qualifying offer and replace him with Robin Lopez instead). The disappointing aspect of the upside of signing a 22-year-old is that if it is indeed a training camp deal (which is a one-year, non-guaranteed minimum-salary contract), he’ll be in the same boat next summer that Hartenstein was this year: an unrestricted free agent with no bird or early bird rights. That means LAC wouldn’t be able to retain him if he’s a completely different player next year and impresses them enough to be kept.
They could offer him a two-year contract instead, but that’s not typical for training camp invitees–basically, if a normal player on a non-guaranteed deal gets injured, his salary becomes guaranteed, and since teams don’t want to be stuck paying a random guy who they never intended to keep past camp anyway, they include a clause in camp contracts called Exhibit 9 that means the salary is not protected in case of injury (shitty, right?). Exhibit 9 can only be added to one-year, minimum-salary deals. Other than that, there’s no rule prohibiting the Clippers from giving him a two-year, non-guaranteed, minimum-salary deal that allows them to cut him in camp if he loses the camp battle or keep him for up to two seasons if they like him, at which point they’d at least have early bird rights. The only downside would be that if he gets hurt, they’re on the hook for paying him his salary this year (and the luxury tax penalty for it) even if they choose to cut him and keep whoever his competitor is.