It’s not easy for professional athletes to deal with a demotion, as veteran center Timofey Mozgov found out on Monday night.
Mozgov was removed from the Los Angeles Lakers starting lineup before Monday’s game against the New York Knicks as part of head coach Luke Walton’s push to give more minutes to the team’s younger players. The 30-year-old Mozgov was replaced by 25-year-old Tarik Black and 31-year-old small forward Luol Deng was replaced by 19-year-old Brandon Ingram.
Deng still played 24 minutes, however, while Mozgov found himself out of the rotation completely as the backup center minutes went to rookie big man Ivica Zubac. After the game, Mozgov was attempting to come to grips with his demotion, via Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times:
I caught Timofey Mozgov before he left the arena. He asked for time to process his benching. pic.twitter.com/22DswrLUag
— Tania Ganguli (@taniaganguli) February 7, 2017
No one would expect Mozgov to be pleased with such a drastic move, but from the Lakers’ perspective, it’s an understandable decision. With the playoffs almost certainly out of reach, it makes sense for Los Angeles to focus on building for the future, and that means giving as many minutes as possible to their young talent.
With the surprising development of Zubac, the Lakers now have something of a minutes crunch in the middle, with Black, Zubac, and Mozgov all capable of playing minutes at the center position. Additionally, Walton does occasionally go small with either Julius Randle or Larry Nance Jr. sliding down, which makes minutes that much more scarce.
Complicating matters, the Lakers gave Mozgov a surprisingly large contract worth $64 million over four years this past summer. That’s a lot of money to have glued to the bench just one year into the deal, and the contract is so massive that it’s also unlikely any team in the league would be willing to trade for Mozgov. This will be a situation worthy monitoring over the next few weeks as Walton’s new rotation gets settled.