In the summer of 2016 the Los Angeles Lakers signed Luol Deng a four-year, $72 million contract. The move raised eyebrows around the league and now Deng’s contract is considered one of the most difficult to trade.
With the team committed to building around their young core and hoping to find a new home for Deng, he played a total of 13 minutes during the 2017-18 campaign. All of them came in the season opener against the Clippers.
It wasn’t an easy situation for the veteran Deng, who has been used to being a key contributor over the course of his 14-year NBA career. Unfortunately, Deng’s massive contract, and the complications it brings to the team’s salary cap, has made him a target for criticism.
Lakers head coach Luke Walton, however, praised Deng for his commitment to helping the team’s young players grow even though he wasn’t seeing minutes.
“I give him a lot of credit. I know he makes a lot of money and he gets paid, is what the critics will say. But I also know the human part of being in this league and not playing, and it’s hard,” Walton said.
“I don’t care how much money you make, you want to play. You want to prove to people all the work you do, what you’re capable of. It’s a challenge for players who don’t get minutes. Especially when they’re making money because there’s pressure that comes with that. Luol was great.
“He was in the locker room always talking to our young guys. In practice, whether he was in the drills or not, he was coaching up. When he did play in the drills, he’s still pretty darn good. His experience, he would win a lot of those drills.”
The Lakers very clearly would prefer to trade Deng this summer, as it would put them in position to sign two max-level free agents, plus re-sign Julius Randle. But the perfect-case scenario is an unlikely one.
Another option is waiving Deng and stretching the remainder of his salary over five years. Of course, if the Lakers aren’t able to sign one of this summer’s marquee free agents they could elect to allow Deng to stick around another season and hope the cost of moving him is less in 2019, when he would have just one year remaining on his contract.
Should Deng remain with the Lakers under the same circumstances as this season, Walton doesn’t foresee any trouble. “The relationship that we have, if he’s back, we’ll be fine again,” Walton said.
“I know there will be frustrations but he’s a professional and he knows where our team is, where our team is trying to get to. He made the decision, ‘OK, I’m not going to be playing. I’m angry, I’m frustrated. But I’m here every day so I’m going to mentor these young guys.’ That’s something that helps.
“There’s a lot of players that go negative and they start sucking the energy out of what you’re trying to accomplish. That’s not the case with him. Even though he wasn’t playing for us, he was very beneficial for what we were trying to do.”
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