While the Los Angeles Lakers have a rich history of centers who have played for the franchise, this season didn’t figure to add to that. Upon losing Brook Lopez in free agency, the Lakers addressed the position by signing JaVale McGee and drafting Moritz Wagner.
The Lakers front office dismissed any concern the apparent lack of a formidable center, explaining Michael Beasley and Kyle Kuzma were going to be relied upon in their own variation(s) of a small-ball lineup.
That proved futile, prompting the Lakers to sign Tyson Chandler after he was bought out by the Phoenix Suns. It was later alleged LeBron James coaxed friend and Suns interim general manager James Jones into waiving Chandler
Chandler and McGee proved to be an effective tandem but their success began to wane. That led to more opportunities for Ivica Zubac, who thrived and earned himself a starting role.
So it made it all the more surprising when the Lakers traded Beasley and Zubac to the Clippers before the deadline. During an appearance on the “FnA Podcast,” Brad Turner of the L.A. Times explained McGee’s frustration and freeing themselves of Beasley was a factor in the Lakers trading Zubac:
“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, was 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 where 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 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. So now the feelings get involved. You have to weigh all those things.”
Beasley downplayed the reported confrontation with Lakers head coach Luke Walton that came after a loss to the Golden State Warriors. Beasley was said to be among the veterans who took exception to criticism from Walton over perceived selfish play.
Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka highlighted Mike Muscala’s shooting ability as a key for the team in moving ahead with the trade.
While McGee was nothing short of a revelation for the Lakers early in the season, he hasn’t been nearly as effective since dealing with pneumonia. That led to McGee losing his starting job, which since has been reclaimed in the wake of Zubac getting traded.
Zubac averaged 8.5 points and 4.9 rebounds in 33 games (12 starts) for the Lakers. He averaged 11.0 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.0 blocks over 22.6 minutes per game in six consecutive starts before he was traded. Zubac regularly credited McGee for providing leadership and aiding his development.
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