Many people were surprised when the Los Angeles Lakers traded Ivica Zubac before the February NBA trade deadline. The 21-year-old center has been establishing an impressive performance in his final games wearing the Purple and Gold, stepping up in the absence of veteran big men JaVale McGee and Tyson Chandler. It would be easy to understand if Zubac was included in a trade package to acquire a superstar, but the Lakers sent him, along with Michael Beasley, to the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for Mike Muscala and to create one roster spot.
On Monday night, Ivica Zubac faced the Lakers for the first time as a member of the opposing team. The Clippers handed the Lakers their third consecutive losses, making it almost impossible for Zubac's former team to earn a playoff spot in the Western Conference this season. In a pre-game interview with Mirjam Swanson of the Southern California News Group, Zubac admitted that he's still watching most of the Lakers' games and said that he could be a different-maker for them if he was not traded before the February NBA trade deadline.
"I've been watching almost every game," Zubac said. "I feel like every time I watch them, I'm like, 'If I was there, I would help them. I would definitely make a difference on the floor,' you know? But they're not my team anymore."
There were several reasons why the Lakers decided to trade Ivica Zubac to the Clippers. In an appearance on FnA podcast, Brad Turner of the Los Angeles Times revealed that the Lakers made the deal after JaVale McGee expressed his frustration over his lack of playing time and losing the starting role. With their plan to use their salary cap space to sign another superstar to pair with LeBron James, the Lakers were also reportedly not confident that they could keep Ivica Zubac, who is set to become a restricted free agent next summer.As of now, the Lakers haven't used the roster spot they created by trading Ivica Zubac to the Clippers. Also, it remains unknown if there is a player on the buyout market who can help the Lakers win their remaining games in the 2018-19 NBA season and reach the Western Conference Playoffs.
Meanwhile, being traded to the Clippers turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Ivica Zubac. Aside from receiving more playing time and a starting role, Zubac will be given the opportunity to play in the postseason for the first time in his NBA career.