The Los Angeles Lakers may have shocked the NBA world when they signed veteran forward Luol Deng to a four-year deal worth $72 million last summer, but the idea was clear.
After selecting Brandon Ingram out of Duke with the second overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, the Lakers were looking for a veteran player who could take their prized young star under his wing, and Deng seemed like a natural fit.
After all, Deng has a reputation around the league as a high-character player who sets a great example as a professional, and it was a bonus that he could theoretically take on the lion’s share of the minutes at small forward while Ingram became acclimated to the NBA.
Unfortunately, Deng had a difficult season and was shut down early, preventing him from having as big of an impact as the team hoped. This season, he is striving to bounce back without losing sight of his role as a mentor on a team full of young players. He spoke to Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times about his goals this season:
“This year I’m just working on my game, be the best I can be, but also be a mentor, just be there for these young guys,” Deng said. “No matter what my role is or what I’m able to do, it doesn’t take away what I can apply to these young guys and what I can pass forward. I love seeing them do well and succeed.”
Since signing his contract, Deng has felt the ire of fans who hope to see the Lakers sign superstar players next summer, which is a difficult task with his deal eating up cap space. He already watched Timofey Mozgov, who agreed to join the Lakers shortly before he did, be exiled to the Brooklyn Nets in order to clear his contract off the books.
Setting salary aside, Deng can still play a positive role for the Lakers, particularly with Ingram, who has the potential to become an excellent defender in the league. It’s unlikely that Deng can live up to the massive contract he was given, and that makes his future with the team a question mark. But it appears that he is focused on making the most of his time in Los Angeles by helping the team rebuild around their young talent.