Luol Deng played the Lakers’ first game last season then sat the next 81. Lakers owner Jeanie Buss said she didn’t understand why her team signed him in the first place. Asked if he came close to trading the extremely overpaid Deng, Lakers president Magic Johnson laughed and said, “I wish.”
Deng, via Stuart Hess of IOL:
“I don’t know what’s going on now, hopefully soon I will know, I would like to know the answers.
“I know the level I can play at and the decision is something they came up with, whatever the criticism or the plan is, none of it was my decision, people need to understand that. They can say whatever they want, I know I can play the game, they see me at practice every day. If it was a game thing then come out and say it, but the honest truth, it’s the decision they made.
“I want to play, I want to be a part of something. But I’m not going to be a part of a place where you don’t believe in me. I’m not trying to knock down anybody, but I play for people who believe in me.
I’ve taken every opportunity since day one and proven myself, I’m not going to sit here and give you the right answer, I’m going to be honest about it, for me, if the respect and appreciation is not there then I’d rather be elsewhere.”
There’s little evidence the Lakers respect and appreciate Deng. There’s even less reason to believe he’ll play much next year.
The 33-year-old Deng is well past his prime, but maybe – maybe – he could help a team in back end of its rotation. However, he’d be competing with LeBron James, Kyle Kuzma, Michael Beasley, Brandon Ingram and Moritz Wagner for minutes at power forward in Los Angeles. Those are too many superior options.
Everyone involved probably wants Deng to move on. But due $36.81 million over the next two seasons, he holds immensely negative trade value. If the Lakers waive him (stretch or not), his salary would be stuck on their books. Los Angeles almost certainly isn’t willing to attach the sweeteners necessary to trade Deng now.
The most realistic hope is the Lakers trading Deng as a fairly neutral-value expiring contract in a larger deal next summer. If one doesn’t emerge, maybe they’ll waive him then.
But Deng is probably stuck in Los Angeles for now.
At least he’s getting compensated well, and he’s entitled to that money. But the drawback is this situation, and the Lakers are well within their rights to not play or believe in him as long as they keep paying him. That’s just how it goes.