Los Angeles Lakers forward Luol Deng started the team’s first game of the season but has not appeared in a game since then.
The veteran forward scored just two points on two shots in a little over 13 minutes during the team’s debut, and Lakers Head Coach Luke Walton made it sound like Deng shouldn’t expect to add to those cumulative statistics anytime soon after the team’s loss to the New Orleans Pelicans Sunday, via Bill Oram of the O.C. Register:
“As of now he’s not in the rotation as far as consistently penciled in without something happening,” Walton said.
Walton still wants Deng to stay ready, however, just in case he ends up being needed to fill in:
“We’ve talked,” Walton said. “It’s 82 games. There’s a lot that’s going to change, but for right now we’ve asked him to stay sharp, to keep working to stay ready for when he gets called on and continue mentoring our young players.”
Deng being pushed out of the rotation is a minor surprise only because he’s the Lakers’ third-highest paid player behind Brook Lopez and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, but it also makes sense for a few reasons.
Since being signed to a four-year, $72 million contract during the summer of 2016, Deng hasn’t been able to give the Lakers very much in the way of production while playing small forward, which is essentially out of position for him when at his current age and speed he’s much more effective playing power forward.
Only being able to play the four is a problem for the Lakers, who have three promising young power forwards already in Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr. and Kyle Kuzma.
It appeared that Deng was still basically a shoe-in for the backup role at the three behind Brandon Ingram heading into training camp, however, the emergence of Kuzma as a legitimate candidate to not just be shoehorned in at small forward, but thrive there has essentially made Deng’s presence superfluous.
With two years and almost $37 million remaining on his contract beyond this season, the Lakers will surely be looking to move on from Deng this year in order to free up more cap space for the summer of 2017, but such a deal is going to be awfully hard to find if he can’t even justify token minutes in the team’s rotation.
The Lakers reportedly might be able to get another team to take Deng on if they throw in a lottery pick, although that might be a hard pill to swallow for the front office in a year in which they already don’t have their own lottery selection.