A year of speculation reached the finish line this week when the Los Angeles Lakers and Luol Deng agreed to a buyout, making the veteran forward a free agent. The Lakers parted with Deng via the NBA’s stretch provision.
By waiting until Sept. 1 to make the move formal, the Lakers committed to paying Deng his entire salary for the 2018-19 season. Meanwhile, the final year of his four-year, $72 million contract will be stretched over the next three summers.
The savviness of the Lakers front office to hold off on making such a move with Deng has put them in position to sign a player to a max contract during 2019 NBA free agency. In the interim, it has also created an open spot on the active roster.
Speaking at the “Evening with the Lakers” event at UCLA Health Training Center, general manager Rob Pelinka explained why the team isn’t in a rush to fill the vacancy, via ESPN L.A. Radio:
“I think flexibility is really important. We’re deep already going into camp. What a roster spot does, just to kind of educate the audience, is it helps in a trade. So if you want to trade one player out and bring two back at the same salary, that gives you flexibility in the trade market. And then it also helps you if there’s an injury and a certain position goes down, you need to fill the need. So it does give us flexibility. I think as of now, Magic’s lean is to keep it open, stay flexible, because we’re so deep.”
Pelinka is correct in that the Lakers certainly don’t lack for options across their roster. If there is one area that could be addressed, it’s at center. However, there aren’t many desirable options and that need may be mitigated if the team carries forward with utilizing a small lineup.
Looking further down the line, having an open roster spot could also be a factor if the Lakers are to pursue a potential Kawhi Leonard trade. Being that he is in the final year of his contract, there’s some belief the Toronto Raptors would look to trade Leonard before the deadline if their season isn’t panning out.