The Lakers made some perplexing moves in free agency this summer. First, they signed Timofey Mozgov to a huge deal almost immediately after the FA period began. Then, they gave an even bigger investment to Luol Deng.
The early consensus was that both of those contracts were overpays but perhaps necessary ones for a franchise that had had no success in that aspect of team building in recent years.
But the overpay for Deng, previously thought of as the lesser of two evils in those decision, may have been even larger than considered. According to ESPN’s Zach Lowe, the Washington Wizards were on the cusp of signing the forward for much less money:
The disastrous deals for Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng will make it hard for the Lakers to fit even one max-level deal signed after 2017, and almost impossible to absorb two. (The Lakers badly overpaid for Deng; Washington had traction with Deng on a three-year deal worth $20 million less overall than L.A. ended up paying, and was stunned to learn of L.A.’s offer, according to several league sources.)
That’s a tough pill to swallow. The $20 million is one thing, but if Deng was willing to sign a three-year contract rather than the four he got from LA, then the Lakers made a pretty hasty decision.
That said, we don’t truly know how this will affect the Lakers yet. The team is still too young and too raw to be a player for stars in free agency. Perhaps in 2018, when both Mozgov and Deng will only have two years remaining on their deals, they will become more trade-able assets to use for cap space. The new CBA will not have an amnesty clause, per reports, but the team could still opt to waive either player with the stretch provision to create short term cap relief.
Deng has not lived up to his contract, yet. But he has played better in recent weeks. In the last ten games, Deng has scored 11.3 points per game, shooting 49 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from three. He has looked noticeably more spry and athletic.
It’s unlikely that Deng lives up to $72 million over four years, but if his play holds this course for some time and he continues providing the invaluable leadership to a young squad, this becomes a bit easier to take in.
The Lakers made a hasty decision and a mistake in signing Deng to such a large deal, but it’s difficult to know how big of a mistake it was without seeing the consequences first.