When you think about the Los Angeles Lakers free agent signings you think big names. Some worked out. LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal, Derek Fisher, Jamaal Wilkes, and Rick Fox to name a few. Some like Karl Malone, Steve Nash, Dennis Rodman, and Gary Payton, not so much. We visit the franchise’s five worst free-agent signings.
5. Dennis Rodman
It was late February 1999 when Lakers Executive Vice President Jerry West signed the 38-year-old Dennis Rodman the veterans’ minimum of $1 million per season. That number would be prorated to less than $500,000 because of the lockout-shortened season plus a handful of games he had already missed.
Calling him “the greatest rebounding forward in the history of basketball” West went on to say “He is also an excellent defensive player and a proven winner with five championship rings. We hope that his addition to the team will take us another step closer to the championship level we hope to attain.”
Nothing could have been further from the truth.
Despite winning the first 11 games with him in uniform, the Worm proved to be more of a distraction than an asset. He was chronically late to practice, games where he’d refused to play in late, and off nights where he was spotted in Las Vegas at the Blackjack and Baccarat.net tables.
Rodman ended up playing in just 23 games and was abruptly waived by the team after just seven weeks.
Stanislav “Slava” Medvedenko’s Laker career could be described as the good, the bad, and the ugly. The 6-foot-10 Ukrainian originally signed with the Lakers as a free agent before the 2000-01 season and went on to play a minor but versatile role in two NBA championship teams.
The bad was Mitch Kupchak signing the sometime-smooth-shooting-but-not-often-enough Medvedenko to a second, four-year contract with the expectations he’d make more of an impact, saying “He’s a player that should continue to improve and we expect him to be a solid contributor for years to come”. Those years never came.
While the Ukrainian showed he could hit his jump shots, the rest of his game failed to develop. He went from making 38 starts and playing 68 games in 2003-04 to playing in just 43 games in 2004-05 and just 2 in his last season with the team. The ugly end saw Slava being waived at the beginning of March in 2006 to clear roster space to enable the Lakers to sign guard Jim Jackson, who not so ironically lasted just 13 games with the team.
3. Nick Young
When the Lakers initially signed Nick Young to a one-year deal at the NBA’s league minimum, they became his fourth team in three seasons. Nobody doubted his scoring ability, which he displayed as a standout guard at USC, however his immaturity and lack of dedication were questioned.
That deal paid off in spades, as Young excelled in Laker’s coach Mike D’Antoni‘s up-tempo system and averaged a career-high 17.9 points while shooting over 38 percent from the three-point line in his first year wearing purple and gold.
It was only after the Lakers missed out on LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony and resigned Young to a four-year, $21 million deal, that things went sideways. “Swaggy P” averaged just 13.4 points on 36.9 percent shooting in 2014-15 and a career-low of 7.3 points per game the following season. During that time, Young frequently clashed with Coach Byron Scott over playing time, defense, high-volume shooting, and taste for the spotlight.
If Nick Young’s tenure with the Lakers didn’t line up exactly with the worst 4-year stretch in team history, he’d probably not make this list. Los Angeles went 91-237 before they let Young walk, and if that wasn’t enough, he promptly won a championship with the Golden State Warriors the very next season.
The Summer of ’16 might mark the lowest point in franchise history for the Lakers. Once a proud team that would sign big-name free agents like Jamaal Wilkes, Shaquille O’Neal, Steve Nash, and Rick Fox, they were reduced signing journeyman center Timofey Mozgov and an aging Luol Deng in 2016.
To begin with, Mozgov was a curious target. He had a great year in 2015 with Cleveland after being traded mid-season from Denver. His performance that year in the finals was well noted, and he returned to the team the following season as the Cavaliers starting center. He promptly lost that job and eventually fell completely out of the rotation by the playoffs. Cleveland never considered retaining him.
In what’s since been called an unforeseen act of insanity, just minutes into the free agency signing period, head of basketball operations Jim Buss and general manager Mitch Kupchak shocked the world (and likely Mozgov himself), by offering the Russian center a four-year, $64-Million contract that would set the basketball world and Twitter on fire.
The Lakers want to give Timofey Mozgov 4 years, $65 million…I wouldn't give him 4 years, $65
— Will Applebee (@NOTSCWill) July 1, 2016
now he gonna average 0 minutes in the playoffs. GG
— alex (@AlexMcBuckets) July 1, 2016
It's 2020 and we're in the middle of a pandemic and I still can't believe that once upon a time Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak signed Timofey Mozgov to a 4-year, $64-million contract. pic.twitter.com/6pViRLdY1P
— Ian Chin (@mediumlargela) May 18, 2020
Fortunately, after just one season with the Lakers, Mozgov was traded to the Brooklyn Nets. In return for eating Mozgov’s awful contract, the Nets received D’Angelo Russell while the Lakers received Brook Lopez and the rights to Kyle Kuzma, the 27th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft.
1. Luol Deng
As bad as the Mozgov deal was, the Luol Deng signing turned out even worse. The Lakers had money to burn, and burn it they did, signing the 31-year-old Deng for $72 million over four years. Not only did they overpay Deng annually, but they also signed him for twice as long as they probably could have.
Luol Deng's reported $18 million per year from Lakers is twice what most thought he'd get before he flourished as a 4 after All-Star break
— Ethan J. Skolnick of @5ReasonsSports (@EthanJSkolnick) July 2, 2016
In a season that saw the Lakers win just 26 games, Deng appeared in only 56. He averaged 7.3 points and played in just over 23 minutes per game.
Signing Deng and Mozgov led in part to Buss and Kupchak being dismissed just seven months later, replaced with Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka. The Lakers were able to trade Mozgov later that year, however, Deng’s contract was so onerous that it proved immovable.
Going into his second season with the team, the 14-year NBA veteran was the Lakers’ highest-paid player. He would play just 1 game, the season opener, before being dropped from the team’s rotation. He was excused for the remainder of the season in December, which led to a mutually agreed-upon buy-out in September 2018.
Adding insult to injury. Deng was bought out on the waive-and-stretch provision. This means he will still be earning close to $5 million per year from the Lakers through the 2021-22 season. Thus making this free-agent signing the worst in Lakers franchise history.