If one was to rank the worst trades in NBA history, the Los Angeles Lakers sending Ivica Zubac to the Clippers for Mike Muscala in order to dump Michael Beasley’s contract likely wouldn’t rank incredibly high, if only because there have been far more damaging transactions over the decades involving superstars, major draft picks, and sometimes both.
After all, at least it wasn’t so bad that Magic Johnson got a new rule named after him, ala Ted Stepien, right? At least they didn’t trade the pick that became Damian Lillard for half a season of Gerald Wallace and then give up picks that became Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown for one playoff appearance like the Nets, right? It could have been much, much worse.
Still, if one were to rank the most nonsensical and least defensible trades from the moment they were made, the Zubac swap would probably sit pretty high up there, if for no other reason than that it was hard to justify even before seeing the returns.
Our own Christian Rivas essentially called it “a bad move” he couldn’t find a bright spot in minutes after it happened for reasons that were even more clear just a month later, and the team’s anonymously leaked reasoning — that they didn’t want to upset JaVale McGee by having Zu play better than him, and needed to dump Beasley’s EXPIRING contract? — never made much sense, and only got worse when it came out that the Clippers didn’t even propose the trade: The Lakers, then led by Johnson (and his eventual and freshly extended through 2026 successor, Rob Pelinka) simply offered the move and the Clippers “gladly accepted,” leading to much laughter from Lakers legend and Clippers consultant Jerry West at his old team’s expense.
Well, West isn’t the only one still (probably) laughing about it. To close out the latest episode of his eponymous “The Lowe Post” podcast, Zach Lowe of ESPN revealed that the league at large is still getting a chuckle out of that move after Zubac’s recent 30-point, 29-rebound demolition of hoped-for Lakers savior Myles Turner:
“He put up that 30-30, or 30-29 game, whatever it was, against the Pacers and Myles Turner, purported Lakers trade target Myles Turner, and I got probably no less than eight text messages from executives around the league telling me ‘oh the irony of Ivica Zubac, whom the Lakers gave up for Mike Muscala, blowing up Myles Turner, the guy who is going to help save the Lakers’ season all these years later.’”
If it makes the Lakers — and their fans — feel better, one of the prevailing theories on why Zubac went at Turner so hard in that game was that he heard the Clippers getting linked to Turner in trade rumors.
So hey, at least they weren’t the only team that employed Big Zu to potentially undervalue him!
And ultimately, the Lakers won a championship the very next season, and so you’re not going to hear a lot of crowing here about the Zubac trade. Things worked out, and in the end, results are the main thing that matters. In fact, I’d be curious how many of the execs texting Lowe have won titles over the years since the Zubac trade, or at all.
Still, giving up a cheap, promising and young center they had Bird rights on to get rid of an expiring contract for a theoretical shooter who performed terribly in Los Angeles and immediately walked was just one chapter from a front office and ownership group that has basically written a short book on poor asset management over the last several years, and maybe the first warning sign that this would be a pattern. And if it makes anyone reading this feel any better, given the amount of roster turnover this front office is addicted to, they probably would have let Zubac walk or traded him for nothing at some point, anyway.
Hopefully that trend is one the team can put an end to in whatever moves they do or don’t make in the months to come, but at least one thing is almost certain: There is almost no chance they make a deal as foolish from the moment it happened as the Zubac one was.
That’s a positive, right?