Luol Deng started on opening night for the Lakers against the Clippers, and he played a little more than 13 minutes that night.
Deng hasn’t seen the court since.
With the Lakers focused on their deep pool of young, athletic fours — Larry Nance Jr., Kyle Kuzma, Julius Randle, even a little Brandon Ingram — Deng isn’t in the team’s plans. Right now, he’s a veteran mentor for these young players, but he wants to be more than that. Deng wants to play.
Deng and his agent have talked to the Lakers about finding a deal, but it could be a while, reports Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.
Deng said he and his agent, Jeff Austin from Octagon sports, have been working with the Lakers to find a resolution to the situation — either via trade or buyout — but he understands it may take weeks, months or even years to settle as he has two years and $26 million remaining on his contract after this year…
“You just never know. It could be a month, it could be a week, it could be three months,” Deng said. “I don’t want something to happen and I’m called upon but my shape holds me back. The challenge is to challenge yourself to be in better shape than if I was playing. Then if I fall short I’m still in good shape.”
It’s not going to be years, but a trade could come after the season. The Lakers want to move Deng and that $26 million before free agency opens next July 1, which would put them much closer to having space for two max contracts on the roster. Then they will go big game hunting. However, to get a team to take on Deng (and not send back a contract that goes beyond this season), the Lakers are going to have to attach one of those young assets — the smart money is on Randle — to the deal to make it work for the other side.
The Lakers could buyout Deng, even waive and stretch him, but that doesn’t get Deng completely off the books and would kill the two max contract dream. Meaning don’t expect to see this.
Deng, for his part, says he just wants to play and prove he can still do it at an NBA level. He’s in shape, he just wants the opportunity.
“I’ve always given it everything. Every single team that I’ve played for, every single person would tell you that I’ve given it everything every single day. That’s the toughest part for me because I’m so used to competing and giving it everything. I’m also used to not doing great and turning it around. My whole life, every time I’ve been down, I’ve found a way to turn it around.”