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Clippers expected to trade center at deadline, Serge Ibaka considered ‘most likely candidate’

Serge Ibaka’s time with the Clippers could be coming to an end soon.

Los Angeles Lakers v LA Clippers Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

The Los Angeles Clippers may not be done making moves just yet. According to a report from Andrew Greif of the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday, the Clippers are expected to move one of their centers before the trade deadline on Thursday:

The Clippers pride themselves on operating in silence — one league source once said it has been described within their building as “ninjas in the night” — so speculation can often lead to dead ends. Yet there is an expectation around the league that their three-center rotation, which has not truly worked all that well for anyone involved, will be resolved with a center expected to be gone. Serge Ibaka’s the most likely candidate because of his expiring salary, but there are scenarios, team president Lawrence Frank has said, where he returns. Some around the league take that to mean that there are scenarios where potentially Ivica Zubac could be packaged and sent elsewhere as part of a bigger move.

Since signing a two-year, $19 million deal with the Clippers in 2020, Ibaka has appeared in just 78 games for Los Angeles, including two postseason games. This season, the Clippers have been better with him off of the floor, but in fairness to him, the only center on the team with a positive point differential is Isaiah Hartenstein, who’s posted a team-high point differential of +15.3.

On the opposite side of the spectrum is Ivica Zubac, who has the lowest point differential on the team at -11.6. He also ended the season with an overall negative point differential (-2.1) last year. So why is Ibaka the one that’s considered the most likely to be shipped out?

Well, for starters, he’s eight years older than Ibaka. But the main reason likely has to do with Ibaka’s contract. Ibaka is on an expiring contract while Zubac has a team option for the 2022-23 season. In theory, they’re both expiring contracts, but Zubac’s gives them a little more flexibility and he’s making $2 million less annually.

That’s not to say that Zubac won’t be traded, but Ibaka seems more likely.