Ron Jenkins/Associated Press
At the time it was signed, Deng’s four-year, $72 million contract with Los Angeles was a head-scratcher. The Lakers’ 2016 offseason was even more puzzling when adding in the four-year, $64 million deal given to Timofey Mozgov. The team paid Deng and Mozgov $34 million to help win 26 games.
One assumed it was only a matter of time before Deng joined Mozgov out the door.
Lakers head coach Luke Walton made it clear he didn’t envision the 32-year-old forward playing a big role for the team on the court.
“We’ve talked,” Walton said in October, per the Orange County Register‘s Bill Oram. “It’s 82 games. There’s a lot that’s going to change, but for right now we’ve asked him to stay sharp, to keep working to stay ready for when he gets called on and continue mentoring our young players.”
Walton was true to his word, as Deng played just 13 minutes for the entire season.
This move benefits all parties involved.
Deng clearly had little value to a rebuilding team, and he was unlikely to significantly help the Lakers when they’re in a better position to contend. Shedding even part of his contract also frees up much-needed salary-cap space for when Los Angeles wants to pursue a marquee free agent or two.
Deng, meanwhile, has the luxury of selecting his next destination. He could chase his first NBA title on a contending team, or he could opt for a franchise where he’s likely to have the most playing time.
Deng averaged 10.3 points per 36 minutes and made a career-low 38.7 percent of his shots in 2016-17, according to Basketball Reference. His 30.9 percent clip on three-pointers was also a noticeable drop from the two years before (35.5 percent in 2014-15 and 34.4 percent in 2015-16).
Still, the Lakers were 1.2 points better per 100 possessions with Deng on the floor two years ago, according to NBA.com. He remained a solid perimeter defender, holding opponents to 32.2 percent shooting on three-pointers and 35.5 percent on shots from more than 15 feet, per NBA.com.
Although he’s never going to be the player who reached back-to-back All-Star Games in 2012 and 2013, Deng is good enough to be a productive bench option for an NBA team.