Last summer, the two biggest free-agent signing for the Los Angeles Lakers, other than retaining Jordan Clarkson, was inking veterans Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng to four-year deals. With Kobe Bryant leaving the storied franchise, Deng became the highest-paid player on the squad.
Deng agreed to a four-year contract worth $72 million and was expected to be the starting small forward even though the team had just drafted Brandon Ingram out of Duke with the second overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft.
In a recent interview with Mark Medina of the OC Register, Deng admits he couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to join Luke Walton and company in Los Angeles. The offer and the role Walton was prepared to give him was something he had to take immediately as he told the Miami Heat brass:
So, Deng called Heat president Pat Riley and Coach Erik Spoelstra to say “this is something I can’t turn down.” Spoelstra agreed: “You have to take that right away.”
Although Deng ultimately accepted the offer he couldn’t refuse from the Lakers, the journeyman admittedly wanted to stay with the Heat before Los Angeles swooped in with the lucrative deal and promise of a significant role on the team, via Medina:
Still, Deng acknowledges he “wanted to” re-sign with the Heat before the Lakers’ generous offer. Deng knows a desire to stay in Miami doesn’t guarantee he would have ended up in their plans had he turned down the Lakers’ offer.
It’s no secret Deng has struggled to find his place on the current Lakers squad. The veteran didn’t play well to start the season, and many began to wonder whether the four-year deal was a smart move for Los Angeles.
Fortunately, the 31-year-old has started to turn things around with some impressive play as of late. In the month of November, Deng averaged 6.6 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game while shooting 33.1 percent from the floor and 30.8 from beyond the arc. All those statistics have risen in the month of December with Deng putting up 10.5 points per game and improving his shooting percentages to 35.7 from deep and 47.1 from the floor.
Despite Deng’s improved and increasing comfort on this team, the Lakers as a whole continue to struggle. The team has gone from a promising 10-10 start to an 11-20 record with a lot of questions about this squad’s ability to play well defensively on a nightly basis.