On July 1st just a stroke past midnight, the Lakers called Timofey Mozgov and almost half an hour later, they offered him a four-year deal worth $64 million. Mozgov agreed to the deal soon after. The Lakers’ contract offer to Mozgov shocked many people and caused quite a stir among fans. The urgency and swiftness of deal along with the length and value of the contract had a lot of people questioning the signing.
Why Mozgov of all centers? Why were they so quick to offer him a contract?
Confusion and doubt quickly cast themselves over the signing, but the answer was simple, the Lakers wanted him. Luke Walton desired him.
In an interview with Southern California News Group, Mozgov told Mark Medina that Luke Walton promises him a lot of playing time:
He said I’m going to play a lot, Mozgov said. I really like it. The only thing in the world I want to do is be with my family and play basketball. Those are the two things that are most important for me.
Mozgov played extremely well after being traded to Cleveland. He performed admirably in the 2015 NBA Finals against the Warriors. Mozgov averaged 14 points, 7.5 rebounds and 28 minutes of play in six games. He shocked everyone in game three where he dropped 28 points and 10 rebounds in only 33 minutes of play.
Fast-forward to one year later, when Mozgov couldn’t sniff the court against the same Warriors team in the NBA Finals. Mozgov appeared in only five games where he averaged only five minutes of play- a significant drop off from last years’ finals. Most of us fans can’t conjure up his performance two years ago, we could only vaguely remember seeing him on the bench and offering little to no help to the Cavaliers’ championship run.
It’s not only in this year’s finals that Mozgov didn’t play much; he also had a hard time finding minutes during the regular season. He averaged only 17 minutes this season compared to 25 minutes last season. Maybe the reduced role had to with his unsuccessful offseason knee surgery last year.
According to Brian Windhorst of ESPN, Mozgov’s surgery didn’t heal as it was expected:
The surgery that they performed last summer was not a success but he felt pressure to play really well because he saw a massive paycheck coming his way. It was the combination of worrying about the contract and an unhealthy knee and a changing role on the team that all contributed to him having a down year.
Whatever the case might be for Mozgov’s disappointing season, Luke Walton still believes he can have a significant role with the Lakers:
“He said I’m going to play a lot. I really like it,” Mozgov said. “He said I’m going to be a big part of the team on the offensive and defensive end.”
Maybe Walton knows something that we don’t. Walton did coach against Mozgov two straight years in the Finals. Brian Shaw, who is the new assistant coach of the Lakers, also coached Mozgov while he was in Denver.
There are good familiarities between Mozgov, who is set to turn 30 in a few weeks, and the Lakers’ coaching staff. Luke Walton, the coach that everyone wanted and desired, called Mozgov first. Walton believes in Mozgov’s ability as a defensive center and someone who understands the pick-and-roll sets. Walton believes that Mozgov can have a significant impact on the Lakers. Most importantly, though, Mozgov believes in his health and himself
“I’m perfect, finally,” Mozgov said. “It took me longer than I thought. But I’m perfect.”
Maybe we should start to believe in him, too.