During his rookie year, Ivica Zubac bided his time. As a second-round pick with the Lakers, he knew he'd have to wait for playing time. His family gathered around a computer screen in Bosnia and Herzegovina on the slim chance he'd get minutes and they'd get to see him play.
When Zubac's time finally came, he thought that was a harbinger of the future. Instead, he is back to waiting his turn. He's mostly seen action only when games have been decided, having played a full quarter once — in a game in Minnesota when the Lakers were low on fresh bodies.
"Yeah I did," said Zubac, when asked if he thought he'd get more minutes this season. "But some things change and I can't control everything. The only thing I can do is work hard and hope that they're gonna call my name."
Not long after the Lakers benched Timofey Mozgov and his $64-million contract last season, Zubac became the starting center. Beginning in March, Zubac started 11 games, averaging 16 minutes and 7.5 points per game.
He struggled a bit in summer league, but worked to lose weight and get quicker. The problem for Zubac, though, was external.
The Lakers acquired former All-Star center Brook Lopez in the trade that sent Mozgov and D'Angelo Russell to the Brooklyn Nets. They also signed Andrew Bogut, a player whom coach Luke Walton trusted for his experience and knowledge of the game. The Lakers have also used Julius Randle at center frequently when going to smaller lineups.
"Zu was going into the summer as our starting center, which is tough, but that's the NBA," Walton said. "Pro sports. How old Is Zu? He's got another 12 years ahead of him."
To get him playing time, the Lakers have sent Zubac down to their development league affiliate, the South Bay Lakers. The Lakers asked Zubac to work on is shooting, his pick-and-roll defense, his ability to switch on guards, and his aggression on the court.
"It's definitely harder [to stay engaged] but I played in some G League games that definitely helped with my conditioning and working with my outside game," Zubac said. "We switched everything in G League so I had a lot of time to work on my switching. I think I really improved in those games. It's harder when you're not playing in the NBA but you gotta do what you gotta do."
Walton moves on
Magic Johnson, the Lakers president of basketball operations, returned to Los Angeles on Monday after spending the weekend in Michigan to celebrate his parents' 60th wedding anniversary. Johnson watched practice from a perch above the courts.
When asked Tuesday if he and Johnson had a chance to speak in light of public critiques made of him by LaVar Ball, the father of starting point guard Lonzo Ball, Walton said they had. But that was all he wanted to say on the subject.
"I'm kind of done talking about all that stuff," Walton said. "I think we should just get back to talking about our basketball and our games and what I'm actually here to do and that's coach this team."