Far gone from the championship dynasties, the Los Angeles Lakers’ organization is fully invested in the rebuilding era, with a rookie head coach in Luke Walton and a young core that is 100 percent in favor of their coach and the growing process.
From an organizational standpoint, the Lakers have been relatively restricted in terms of free agency of the past, as their dismal records and lack of depth have deterred many free agents from taking them seriously. Without that base to build upon, President Jeanie Buss, Executive Vice President Jim Buss and General Manager Mitch Kupchak have had think outside the box, in order to bolster the roster, while not overindulging in the available cap space in the expanding NBA.
During the previous offseason, the Lakers struck first when the free agency period began. They signed center Timofey Mozgov, more so as a move that would set the market for the other centers in the NBA. Shortly after, the Lakers signed 12-year NBA veteran Luol Deng, to fill the void at small forward and also serve as a mentor-type veteran.
Alas, the signings of Mozgov and Deng haven’t panned out as expected, as Mozgov’s production hasn’t been enough, while Deng is battling through injuries and against father time. According to David Aldridge of NBA.com, Jeanie has been told multiple times that those two signings weren’t prevalent enough to get the job done:
“She’s hearing from enough people that those two signings were not strong enough signings,” said one person who’s spoken with her recently.”
Mozgov was signed to a four-year, $64 million deal, fresh off of a NBA championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Russian center was thought of as a defensive presence that can flourish alongside the playmaking ability of Russell.
Although Mozgov’s contract was viewed as a bit expensive, the Lakers ability to make the first signing set the market for other centers that would go on to be overpaid in a sense.
On the other hand, Deng received the more lucrative four-year, fully guaranteed $72 million deal. The international small forward was fresh off of a two-year stop with the Miami Heat. However, his body and physical outlook has been anything, but fresh.
Besides missing out on four games this season, his body simply hasn’t been as athletic and agile as before, as the veteran has logged a lot of minutes throughout his career.
Walton ultimately elected to place Deng and Mozgov in the starting lineup, alongside the young players, but as the season has progressed, alternative options are emerging. In 21.1 minutes per contest, Mozgov is averaging just 7.7 points, 4.9 rebounds and 0.5 blocks per game. To the contrary, Deng is averaging 8.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.5 assists in 27.4 minutes per game.
Rookie Ivica Zubac’s recent outburst against the Dallas Mavericks commanded certain attention from Walton and his staff, as it has them pondering if the 19-year-old should receive more minutes in the rotation.
Also, Ingram’s constant growth during his increasing role has Walton truly excited, as he recently demonstrated an ability to be the best player on the floor for the Lakers
If the season were to continue in a negative direction in terms of wins and losses, the Buss family and Walton may be forced into exploring their options outside of Deng and Mozgov.