PLAYA VISTA — And the Clippers were quiet until the 43rd pick, when they called Moussa Diabate’s name midway through the second round of the NBA Draft on Thursday, selecting the French forward from Michigan.
And that was it. The Clippers’ snapped their seven-year streak of draft night trades, selecting Diabate – at 6-foot-10, 210 pounds with a 7-3 wingspan – and making no other moves.
Diabate is considered by experts to be an upside pick. As a freshman in college, he averaged 9.0 points and 6.0 rebounds and shot 54.2% from the field in 24.8 minutes a game. He hit just 61.9% of free throws and was sometimes prone to foul trouble.
A Big-10 All-Freshman selection, he’s long, athletic and raw. Before the combine, he told reporters that he hoped to find a situation that would give him room to develop a long-term foundation.
“It’s a situation where I feel like I’ll be able to rise and get better,” Diabate, 20, told the Detroit News in May. “I don’t want to just go in there and just end up staying in the league for three years and just get out. I’m trying to get something where the structure is going to be solid and it’s going to help me grow as a man and as a basketball player.
“I’d say coming into a team, I feel my role I feel is going to be as an energizer,” added Diabate, who became the third Michigan player to be drafted in the second round over the past 10 years, along with Isaiah Livers, Ignas Brazdeikis and Glenn Robinson.
“Playing defense, grabbing rebounds, running the floor. Just being athletic and communicating on the court and just being somebody that gives energy every single time.”
The Clippers’ brass hunkered down at Honey Training Center for Thursday’s NBA Draft with just one pick because their play-in loss to New Orleans not only ended their season, it sent their lottery pick to Oklahoma City – a provision of the 2019 blockbuster trade by which they acquired All-Star Paul George, which, helped entice fellow All-Star Kawhi Leonard to sign on.
Through their evaluation process leading up to the draft, the Clippers remained mum on the players who they were looking at, though word leaked about some of them – including Diabate, who said he’d met with about 10 teams, including the Clippers.
Next up: Free agency, which begins officially at 3 p.m. on June 30, when the Clippers will have – with the addition of Diabate – a roster of 12 players, including Leonard and George, who should be healthy after missing all or much of last season with injuries.
The Clippers have some tools to work with, including trade exceptions of $9.7 million and $8.3 million, a $6.3 million tax mid-level exception, $6.3 million and seven second-round pics in the next seven years.
Isaiah Hartenstein, the Clippers’ free agent backup center, also was drafted No. 43 overall – by Houston in 2017.
Veteran wing Nicolas Batum is expected to decline his $3.3 million player option, but he’s given every indication that he wants to return to the team. The Clippers have Batum’s early Bird rights because he has two years of service with them, meaning he’ll be able to get a raise by signing a new deal for as much as $10.9 million for at least two years and without an option in the second year.
The Clippers also will decide whether to exercise their $7.5 million team option for center Ivica Zubac. They have until June 29 to make that call if they don’t want to let their “Iron Man” become an unrestricted free agent. He’s also eligible for a four-year, $61 million extension.
June 29 is also the deadline for the Clippers to tender offers to two-way guard Jay Scrubb (who missed more than 90 games the past two seasons because of foot injuries) and Amir Coffey, who started 29 games last season and is a restricted free agent. They have Coffey’s Bird rights so they won’t have to dip into their tax mid-level exception on a long-term deal.
The Clippers moved quickly to retain Robert Covington following the end of their season; on May 5, news broke that he and the team came to terms on a two-year, $24 million contract extension.
And then there’s the specter of Kyrie Irving.
The mercurial Brooklyn guard has the basketball world speculating about his future with the Nets: Irving has a $36.5 million player option for the 2022-23 season, but reports indicated that he and the team are at an impasse in contract talks and, moreover, that he has a list of teams he would consider in a sign-and-trade.
Those teams? The Clippers, Lakers, New York Knicks, Miami Heat, Dallas Mavericks and Philadelphia 76ers.
And if Irving departs, will another seismic domino fall too? There’s also speculation that Kevin Durant, the 12-time All-Star and league’s 2013-14 MVP, is “monitoring” the situation and “considering options with his future,” per The Athletic’s Shams Charania. Could the Clippers factor into those talks? ’Tis the season to at least entertain the possibility.
More to come on this story.