In a decision that ultimately contributed to their fate, former Los Angeles Lakers executive vice president of player personnel Jim Buss and general manager Mitch Kupchak signed Luol Deng to a four-year, $72 million contract in July 2016.
It of course was the same summer the Lakers also inked Timofey Mozgov to a four-year, $64 million contract. Both deals quickly inhibited the team’s financial outlook as Deng and Mozgov largely failed to meet expectations that come with such lucrative contracts.
The Lakers, with president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka at the helm, managed to move on from Mozgov by attaching D’Angelo Russell to him in a trade with the Brooklyn Nets.
It’s hardly been a secret the Lakers wish to part ways with Deng, who started the season opener and has since been shut down. But it was reported the team had given up on finding a potential trade partner for the 32-year-old.
While the Lakers made significant progress toward clearing salary cap space for the pursuit of superstar free agents by trading Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. The prospect of trading Deng unsurprisingly didn’t present itself.
“We wish,” Johnson said with a laugh, when asked on the day of the NBA trade deadline if any serious talks were had with other teams. “That didn’t happen.
“Rob has been working very well to try to get him to a place where he can be happy. There’s just not been a trade for him. He understands that and he knows that.”
Although the writing has long been on the wall, Deng hasn’t allowed it to affect his mindset, work ethic or mentoring the young core. “Luol has been an unbelievable professional and has stayed very positive,” Pelinka said.
“He understands the situation. At some point we’ll figure out a way to resolve that, that’s a win for him and for us. This trade deadline wasn’t the window for that to happen.”
Considering how unlikely a trade involving Deng may be, the Lakers’ best course of action might be to use the NBA’s stretch provision. It would allow them to pay the remainder of his contract ($36.8 million) over the next five years.
WANT TO PARTICIPATE IN THE DISCUSSION? CHECK OUT THE NEW LAKERS NATION FORUM CLUB