The Clippers made a series of moves to start the NBA summer in early July, but the one that perhaps went the most under the radar was their re-signing of Ivica Zubac to a 4 year, $28 million contract (with a team option on the fourth year). Zu started for the Clippers down the stretch last year, and was a key reason for their surge into the playoffs, but has received little attention thus far this summer. To rectify that, the Clips Nation staff will present their grades on the Zubac re-signing below.
Shapan Debnath: B
I’m not gonna lie, part of me is concerned about Zubac and his fit as a starter with this team, but I think this was a very reasonable deal. I am rooting for him to show his worth and really ball out — he has the capability to do so. But I’m nervous about the possibility of him being difficult to play against certain teams, especially playoff foes like the Lakers.
Michelle Uzeta: B
The Clippers pulled off an absolute heist in February, securing Ivica Zubac from the Los Angeles Lakers via trade for nearly nothing. (Honestly, it’s six months later and I’m still giggling about it.) Re-signing the 7’1 center this off-season was a also solid move, albeit not quite as spectacular. The Clippers have locked up the 22 year old big on a fairly frugal long-term contract (4 years; total cost 28 million), during which he should develop nicely and prove his value.
Affable, young, and coachable, Zubac averaged 9.4 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.5 assists in just over 20 minutes of play in 25 games for the Clippers. He was effective at the rim with his size and big hands, shooting 64.9 percent from the field, and filled a gap in the paint for the franchise. Despite these positives, Zubac is still relatively unproven as an NBA center. In today’s run-and-gun NBA, it would favor him to develop a reasonably reliable three-point shot (something he is working on, according to various social media posts). He also needs to work on his help defense, which was a glaring liability in the playoffs and will continue to be a problem against teams with slash-heavy offenses. I like him as a back-up center, though he may get the starting gig if the Clippers plan to keep the dynamic duo of Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams together on the second unit. Either way, crossing my fingers that he has a breakout season in 2019-20.
Sabreena Merchant: B
When it was originally reported that the Clippers had signed Ivica Zubac to a 4-year, $28 million deal, it seemed like the team was overpaying by giving him four years. Now that we know the fourth year is a team option, this is a much more reasonable contract for the 22 year-old center. Zubac was a perfectly solid regular season center who provided adequate rim protection and finishing out of the pick-and-roll, but wasn’t the center fans or Doc Rivers wanted on the floor to end games. It’s hard to say if the Clippers will want him finishing games at the end of this season, either, but given the team’s financial constraints, Zubac was probably the best option out there. The beauty of this contract is it also allows Zubac, who is only 22, time to grow. We’ve seen how much he improved just in his stint with the Clippers last season, and it stands to reason he will continue to do so. Maybe Zubac isn’t worth the money he’s being paid right now, but he should be in a couple of seasons.
Kenneth Armstrong: B+
As Lucas noted when the deal was first reported, this price was a bit high for Zubac. I think he can be a good player, but the Clippers don’t have very much time (considering the goal for the next two years to win a championship) to have a key player such as Zubac still be learning the ropes. Given that he is still a project, I would have liked the Clippers to bring in a more established center.
In the end, though, we won’t be expecting too much from Zubac. We just need him to rebound and protect the rim, and his size and youth should allow him to do that. It just scares me that we’re going to be depending so much on Montrezl Harrell again, who is a super valuable player, but shouldn’t have to play center 20+ minutes a game against the biggest bodies the NBA has to offer.
Max Jeffrey: B+
When the LA Clippers managed to acquire Ivica Zubac from the Los Angeles Lakers for the mere price of Mike Muscala (who had just been a throw-in from the Tobias Harris trade) and taking on a waiveable Michael Beasley, it was pretty surprising. Zubac, then 21 years-old and entering restricted free agency at season’s end, had demonstrated that he was, at the very least, a serviceable young center at both ends of the floor; it’s also worth mentioning that he’s a legitimate 7-footer. Zubac is still young, still raw, and still needs work on his strength and conditioning, but there is clearly high potential. For the Lakers, a team who knew they would be entering the offseason chasing two max free agents and with very little left to spend on players, moving someone like Zubac for what they got was perplexing. For the Clippers, the move was an absolute gift, and Zubac would prove to be a solid fit with their roster.
When Zubac took the floor with the Clippers last season, they were an improved defensive team and still operated fluidly at the offensive end. Zubac became a bit exposed in the playoffs, but it was a very small sample size for a young player participating in his first postseason. His work ethic is strong, he continually demonstrates a team-first mentality, and has a nice offensive touch. But in a free agent market this summer, where centers were not receiving premium offers, giving Zubac a 4-year/$28 million contract seemed a tad steep. It could look very nice in the long run, however, with the salary cap set to continually increase. Zubac is already a great complimentary piece to a deep roster that can space the floor and lock in defensively. And, if he lives up to his potential, he could be the perfect starting center for the Clippers for many years to come.
Chris Murch: B
It’s hard to be mad at the Clips re-signing a young seven-footer that was an advanced analytics darling for the team post trade deadline. The team had a better record with him in the lineup, the rim-protection numbers got way better, and he was just an all-around upgrade from the combo of Marcin Gortat and Boban Marjanovic. The question remains, however: what is Zu’s ceiling? He seems to be working really hard on expanding his range and adapting to the new NBA (there are many shooting clips from this summer to back it up). Being so young, he has oodles of room to grow, get stronger, and become more reliable, but will that happen quickly? This is a team with championship aspirations right now. If Zu gets schemed out of playoff series like he did last year and the Clips are without a solid backup center, things might go haywire. Also, I thought Zu getting $7 million a year was a little high. Overall, I’m not mad at this at all because Zu will improve. The question is, how much?
Robert Flom: B-
I’m a little more down on this signing, not necessarily because of the deal itself, but because of my worries surrounding Zubac’s ability to play big minutes in the most important games of the season. He was unable to remain on the court against the Warriors in the playoffs last season, and while the Kevin Durant Warriors were a unique, terrifying obstacle, there are other teams that will present significant challenges this season if the Clippers want to win a championship. Can Zubac bang inside against Joel Embiid if the Clippers were to make the Finals? Does he have the mobility to guard out to the three-point line when LeBron James and Anthony Davis run pick and roll or pick and pop? Can he provide any real offensive capabilities against a staunch defender such as Rudy Gobert? These are all very specific questions against certain teams, and it’s possible that the Clippers won’t face those squads — or that Zubac is able to answer those issues capably.
Zubac proved himself, at the very least, a capable rotation player last season. He can score well enough inside, is a solid rim protector, and is surprisingly swift on his feet when defending the pick and roll. Considering his youth, his work ethic, and his infectious personality, such abilities make a 4 year, $28 deal perfectly acceptable, especially with that team option. It’s not a bad deal, by any means. I just don’t know if Zubac is at the level of what the Clippers will need from their starting center on a championship run over the next two seasons.