One of the more questionable transactions at the NBA trade deadline was the Los Angeles Lakers' decision to send Ivica Zubac and Michael Beasley to the Los Angeles Clippers for Mike Muscala, giving the Lakers a bit more shooting at the 4 and clearing a roster spot for the buyout market.
The Lakers didn't add another veteran player via a buyout, however, and according to Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com, Clippers consultant Jerry West—a legend as a player and long one of the game's most savvy front-office minds—had a laugh at the Lakers' expense after acquiring the young and intriguing Zubac:
"Shortly after the trade deadline, Clippers consultant Jerry West—who spent more than 40 years with the Lakers as a player, coach and executive—got together for dinner with old friends who also had former Laker ties, sources said. He couldn't believe how Zubac fell into his lap. The Clippers, sources said, never even called the Lakers to inquire about Zubac. The Lakers made the offer and the Clippers gladly accepted.
"Sources said those at the dinner table shared a hearty laugh at the Lakers' expense."
Zubac, 22, didn't see much playing time for the Lakers in his first two seasons and for large chunks of the 2018-19 campaign. But he was finally given a bigger role for the team in January and responded, averaging 11.2 points and 6.0 rebounds 18 minutes across 17 contests.
And with the Clippers he's started all 20 games he's played in, averaging 9.0 points and 7.8 rebounds in 19.8 minutes per game. In those games, the Clippers are 15-5. In that same time, the Lakers have gone 5-15.
At one point, the Lakers and Clippers were jockeying for position at the bottom of the Western Conference playoff picture. But if the playoffs started today, the Clippers would be the No. 6 seed and the Lakers would be watching them from home.
Granted, Zubac alone hasn't been responsible for the Clippers' surge or the Lakers' demise. The Lakers, in particular, have been beset by injury, inexperience, the constant trade rumors during the Anthony Davis saga and poor roster construction around LeBron James.
And the Clippers were already a well-coached, solid team that played well together before players like Zubac and Landry Shamet—who came over from Philadelphia in the Tobias Harris trade and has averaged 11.3 points for the team while shooting an impressive 46.6 percent from three—joined the roster.
But the fact that the Clippers have found a role for a player in Zubac that the Lakers essentially gave away is telling of the state of the two programs. Both are expected to be major players in free agency, and while the Lakers can offer the prestige of being one of the NBA's most successful franchises and the chance to play alongside James, the Clippers, quite frankly, are the better-run organization at the moment.
In the battle for Los Angeles, a destination city for NBA free agents, that very well could be the deciding factor this summer.