Two of the Los Angeles Lakers big-money signings last summer, Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng, are no longer part of head coach Luke Walton’s rotation. Heading into the season, the thought was that Deng and Mozgov would provide the young Lakers with the stability that they needed in order to grow. When plays fell apart, the veterans would provide a steadying presence, like an NBA version of training wheels.
Unfortunately, these training wheels were very expensive. The Lakers committed to four-year deals worth a combined $136 million, which will greatly impact their ability to pursue free agents in the future.
Now, with Los Angeles torpedoing towards another low finish, Deng and Mozgov, who were starters earlier this season, have seen their playing time eliminated. In their recent blowout loss to the Boston Celtics, Deng was left off the active roster completely, despite being healthy. The veteran forward spoke to Mark Medina of the Southern California News Group about Walton’s drastic change:
“I totally understand what we’re doing,” Deng told Southern California News Group. “He wants the guys to be in situations where they learn and play minutes. It’s always about what we’re trying to do. Why am I going to be on the bench if I’m not playing?”
Deng’s professionalism in a difficult situation is part of the reason why the team signed him in the first place. With rookie Brandon Ingram needing a veteran mentor, there are few players in the league better suited to show him the ropes than Deng, who keeps an even keel and works hard regardless of what is going on around him.
Of course, the four-year, $72 million the Lakers gave Deng last summer is still an incredibly high price to pay for veteran mentorship, and the hope is that he will be able to contribute more on the floor in the future.