The now-infamous 2016 NBA free agency put the Los Angeles Lakers in what turned into a deep hole because of the signings of Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov. They signed their respective contracts during the first summer the salary cap spiked because of additional revenue.
On the heels of signing Mozgov to a four-year, $64 million contract, the Lakers agreed to a four-year, $72 million deal with Deng. He was coming off a season in which he averaged 12.3 points per game, his lowest since being a rookie.
Mozgov has since been traded, at the cost of attaching former No. 2 overall pick D’Angelo Russell to the deal. Meanwhile, Lakers controlling owner Jeanie Buss has gone on record to express her dissatisfaction and confusion with the Deng signing.
While preparing for this weekend’s NBA Africa Game, Deng candidly spoke about his current status with the Lakers and a desire to play for another team if he does not receive support, per
Stuar Hess of IOL.com:
“I want to play, I want to be a part of something. But I’m not going to be a part of a place where you don’t believe in me. I’m not trying to knock down anybody, but I play for people who believe in me.
“I’ve taken every opportunity since day one and proven myself, I’m not going to sit here and give you the right answer, I’m going to be honest about it, for me, if the respect and appreciation is not there then I’d rather be elsewhere.”
Deng averaged 7.6 points and 5.3 rebounds while appearing in 56 games (49 starts) during his first season with the Lakers. He started in the opener of the 2017-18 campaign, and never stepped foot on the court again.
Even while the Lakers were suffering from a rash of injuries down the stretch of the season, the veteran forward and organization felt it was best he remain inactive. Lakers head coach Luke Walton has praised Deng on several occasions for being a model teammate in spite of the difficult situation.
The front office presumably would jump at an opportunity to trade Deng, but his bloated contract and declining production make that a difficult proposition. The Lakers could use the stretch provision on the $36.8 million he’s owed, but that would keep Deng on their payroll for five years at $7.4 million per.
Although Deng seemingly has a desire to play, some within the Lakers organization reportedly view him as essentially being retired.