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Clippers’ Ivica Zubac says he was more hyped about getting Kawhi Leonard, Paul George than signing his own contract

Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Ivica Zubac

It’s safe to say Ivica Zubac is thrilled to have found his home with the LA Clippers.

The four-year veteran began establishing himself as a worthwhile rotation player in the early going of 2018-19, making his case as the Los Angeles Lakers’ top center. But coaxed into win-now mode by the presence of LeBron James, the Lakers dealt him to their cross-arena rivals at the trade deadline regardless, hoping a big man with shooting stretch like Mike Muscala would make life easier on the four-time MVP as he attempted to drag his new team to the playoffs. It didn’t happen, of course, with Muscala disappointing and Zubac going on to play the finest basketball of his career with the Clippers.

LA rewarded him this summer with a four-year, $28 million deal that makes the former second-round pick a fixture of the team’s present and future. As Zubac tells it, though, he was even more excited about the Clippers landing Kawhi Leonard and Paul George than he was about signing his first big-money NBA contract.

“I was probably more hyped about it than about my contract,” he said, per The Athletic’s Jovan Buha. “I was just happy. That meant only one thing: We’re going to compete for a championship.”

Zubac averaged 9.4 points and 7.7 rebounds in 20.2 minutes per game with the Clippers last season, all career-highs. He was especially effective on defense, commonly praised by Doc Rivers for his rim-protecting instincts and registering a 106.1 defensive rating, a team-low after the trade, per NBA.com/stats.

Zubac is expected to started at center for LA in 2019-20, though he’s likely to split crunch-time minutes with Sixth Man of the Year runner-up Montrezl Harrell depending on matchups.