On Monday’s win against the Knicks, the Lakers decided to make some adjustments to the starting lineup when they replaced Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng with Tarik Black and Brandon Ingram. This was done as movement towards the youth of the team even with Deng and Mozgov having by far the largest contracts on the team. Over the last week and a half, Black has filled in for the inactive Julius Randle while he was dealing with pneumonia and played well in the starting role.
The Lakers currently have a carousel of centers in rotation and all of them can’t get the minutes they need to either develop or to justify their contracts. Going into this season, it was a pretty clear vision that Timofey Mozgov would be the starting center with Tarik Black being the back up that provides energy off the bench, but there is now a wrinkle in that plan.
Enter the man of many nicknames, Ivica Zubac.
The 19-year old Croatian was the Lakers’ second round selection in the 2016 draft. Zubac was thought of as a long term project but a player that has potential to be an impactful player as he gets a little older, but he had other ideas. Once Luke Walton decided to give the young big man a taste of NBA minutes, Zubac thrived. He has played in each of the last 11 games averaging just over 16 minutes per game. In those games Zubacca has recorded three double-doubles, four games with multiple blocks, a shooting percentage north of 55 percent while averaging just over eight points and eight rebounds per game.
With his game being so impactful and polished right off the bat, it will be hard to deny Zubac minutes going forward. This could lead to Tarik Black being the odd man out.
This summer, the purple and gold made a long term commitment to Timofey Mozgov when they inked him to a four-year, $64 million deal on the first night of free agency. His production has not been bad in any way; he has a skill set that the Lakers need, but he has not lived up to his salary thus far. In an ideal world, the Lakers would be able to trade Mozgov to get out of his enormous contract, but that is very unlikely to happen unless the team gives up an asset to go along with it. I don’t believe that would be a worthwhile deal for the team to make because Mozgov has been a solid player on the court.
This brings us to Tarik Black.
In the offseason, the Lakers gave Black a two-year, $12 million contract with the second year being non-guaranteed. In other words, he is essentially on a one-year deal and can be completely off the salary cap for the 2018 season. Even if he is retained and a team decides to pay him for next season, his contract is extremely team friendly given the value he provides on the court. This makes him a great trade target for a team looking to make a playoff push or increase their odds as a contender. And not to mention that Black is stringing together one good game after another at the absolute best time.
During his last five games, all of which he started, Black has averaged just over seven points and seven rebounds including three offensive rebounds, all in just 22 minutes per game. On the year he has an offensive rating of 118 and a defensive rating of 111 which both rank in the top four on the team.
During this time of the year, there are teams desperately looking to add that extra role player to take them to the next level. If Los Angeles starts to showcase Black by playing him more minutes, which is what they might have begun with their win over the Knicks in which he and Zubac were the only centers to play, that will only raise their chances of someone inquiring about him.
The trade deadline is just a few weeks away and the team once took a risk that paid off when they claimed Tarik Black off waivers, that risk has paid off, but now they should look to get as much back while his stock is high.