Ivica Zubac is now a Los Angeles Clipper, and the move that got him there had quite a few people in the Los Angeles Lakers fan base scratching their heads. At the time, Zubac was the team’s starting center and had shown immense promise this season. All that he and Michael Beasley netted from the Clippers was Mike Muscala, a situational big whose shooting hasn’t been where the Lakers need it to be.
Thursday afternoon, while on the FnA Podcast, Brad Turner of the L.A. Times broke down what Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka were thinking (h/t: Jacob Rude of LonzoWire and LakersOutsiders)
“The Lakers kept thinking to themselves ‘We won’t be able to afford Zubac this summer. That can’t happen.’ And, the biggest key out of it all is that they wanted Michael Beasley gone. He had to be moved on.
Some of it was because of the interaction he had with Luke Walton after the Golden State game when he spoke out about what was going on and guys being selfish. He felt singled out.
So, based on that, the Lakers knew going forward if they’re going to keep all this salary cap space, then we can’t afford to keep Zu. They loved Zubac, they wanted to keep him around but they couldn’t afford to keep him on the team this summer.
Also, a small thing was, JaVale McGee started feeling some kind of way about not playing as much, about not starting...You have to weigh all those things.”
So let’s get this straight... The Lakers really traded away their starting center for an underperforming big because they wanted to rid themselves of Beasley, who is not under contract beyond this year and could very easily be waived (as the Clippers did immediately upon acquiring him).
They also did so at least in small part because JaVale McGee — who has not been good since returning from pneumonia — was moping as his poor play helped thrust Zubac into the starting lineup.
What the hell, guys.
If you’re looking for an optimistic view of the trade, maybe you could glean it from their priority of maintaining cap space this season, space that they seem to really think they can use to land star-level players to fill the space they’re keeping open. Had they received any intel that Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, etc. were definitely not going to consider the Lakers this season, they might’ve approached this edict of flexibility a little differently.
Even still, Zubac is still on his rookie contract. His cap hold would have been a shade under $2 million, and they only save around $1 million in cap space by waiving him. If it was that critical to open up that space this summer, THEY COULD VERY EASILY HAVE SIMPLY RENOUNCED HIM AFTER GETTING THE SECOND HALF OF A SEASON’S PRODUCTION FROM HIM.
Instead, the Lakers now have to hope that McGee magically gets back to the level of play from this season — which apparently could not have happened with Zubac around. They also have to hope Tyson Chandler gets and stays healthy — something he hasn’t been able to do. Oh, and they have to hope Muscala actually provides the floor spacing his reputation says he might.
So much for the high-character guys we were told breathlessly about back after this summer, too by the way. McGee apparently is so childish he moped because he lost his spot and Beasley was such a hindrance in the locker room with Walton that they felt the need to attach a starting-caliber center to get rid of him (instead of just cutting him, for some reason).
It’s failings like these on the margins that should make fans legitimately nervous about whether this front office has what it takes to put together a decent NBA roster. Let’s say things actually work out and they acquire the stars they’ve been telling us about this summer. They’ll have to get creative in order to piece together a roster with basically no cap space and very few assets left over from a theoretical Anthony Davis trade.
Thus far, that kind of creativity has not been displayed and, if anything, I’d argue they’ve shown a proclivity for allowing other teams to take advantage of them in such situations that call for personnel improvements on the margins.
If this really is the best explanation the Lakers can put forth, then they might be in more trouble that we already think.
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