The Los Angeles Lakers will reportedly buy out the remaining two years of the contract of Luol Deng, bringing to a close one of the great mistakes of the insane summer of 2016.
Lots of huge contracts were handed out that summer, and some of them are still gumming up the cap sheets of teams around the league—looking at you, Ian Mahinmi—but the Lakers, under a desperate Jim Buss, truly set the high-water mark for spending lavishly on veterans with no real path to relevance within an organization. Timofey Mozgov’s hilarious four-year, $64 million contract bought the Lakers a whopping 54 total games of utterly replacement-level production, and will somehow go down as only the second-worst deal the team handed out during that free agency period. Deng, entering his age-31 season, signed for four years and $72 million, and immediately turned into a pumpkin—Deng produced a glaring 47 percent true shooting percentage in 56 games that first season, and then played exactly one (1) game all of last season. Along the way he ceased to be Luol Deng, Basketball Player, and became Luol Deng, Toxic Contract, or even Luol Deng, Actual Cursed Mummy.
It’s not that Deng for sure can’t play—he probably can’t, but who even knows at this point—so much as it is that he had absolutely no business playing rotation minutes on a team as far from contention as the Lakers have been since, oh, 2012. Deng put an insane number of basketball miles on his odometer under Tom Thibodeau in Chicago, and already looked greatly reduced by the time he joined up with the Miami Heat in 2014. The Lakers should’ve been mid-rebuild in 2016, and quickly pivoted to a rebuild once it became clear that Mozgov and Deng weren’t [snort] the core of a playoff contender. Now the team has an intriguing group of youngsters arrayed around LeBron James, and a chance for more free agency fireworks next summer, if things go as planned. Hence the buyout: Deng will reportedly give back some of the money in his contract, and the Lakers will waive Deng and stretch the remainder of what’s owed, to free up additional salary cap room for more free agency spending in 2019.
Chris Haynes says Deng will draw interest from “several contenders,” which is honestly a little hard to believe given that he played all of 13 minutes of basketball last season, and has played a total of roughly zero minutes of good basketball since 2016. But the league has moved a little bit in his direction over the last couple seasons, as slower, oversized small forwards who can shoot a little became desirable stretch options at power forward. Maybe Deng can latch on somewhere and rehabilitate his image as a guy who can play some hoops. That certainly would make for a happier ending than this depressing one.