Last offseason the Los Angeles made a bit of a head-scratching move, signing veteran forward Luol Deng to a four-year, $72 million contract.
Deng began the season as the team’s starting small forward, but he did not get off to a good start and was never quite able to break out of that slump.
Once the Lakers were out of the playoff race, they shifted the focus of the season to the development of the young core, so Deng lost his starting spot to Brandon Ingram and eventually wound up being shut down for the season, as he did not play in the team’s final 22 games and was inactive for 16 of them.
When assessing his season, Deng was not too happy with the results, and he plans to come back next season with a different mentality, via Tania Ganguli of the LA Times:
“There’s a bitter taste in my mouth,” Deng said. “I just gotta come back with a chip on my shoulder. This year started to build a fire inside me. I don’t tell people a lot of times because I carry on not being as competitive, but I’ve got a lot of people to shut up next year.”
The 31-year-old appeared in 56 games for the Lakers this past season, starting in 49 of them. He averaged career-lows in points (7.6), assists (1.3) and field goal percentage (38.7 percent).
Deng still has three years remaining on his contract, and with the amount owed to him it is unlikely that the Lakers will be able to trade him, so he will head into next year as a veteran who is on the roster more for mentorship of the young players than for his play on the court.
He has proven to be a solid NBA player throughout his career though, so it is possible that the time off at the end of this past season will help rejuvenate his legs and he can be a become quality rotation player again.