Timofey Mozgov’s premier season with the Los Angeles Lakers was anything but triumphant. After signing a shockingly large deal early in free agency, Mozgov was not able to play at the level that was expected due to his contract.
Eventually, the former Cavaliers’ big man and NBA champion was benched full time, shut down to finish the season as the Lakers opted to give more playing time to their younger players.
Mozgov spoke about that decision and the challenges of joining the Lakers with Championat.com.
“The coach told me about it before the game. It was a big surprise for me. Honestly, it was surprise to everyone, even coach Walton. I still don’t understand what motivated the management to make such decision. I did not try to find out the details. They don’t want to put me in, so I don’t want to also”.
“It was hard to leave the champs for a club that can’t even make the playoffs. Of course, it was hard. Ad this also applies to the players and their attitude. They face very different challenges. My best friend in the team was Marcelo Huertas, until he left. Still I had a good relationship with a guy who worked as an assistant coach on physical preparation. But he was fired. I get along well with everyone, I just can’t say that I am close to anyone”.
It’s clear that Mozgov’s transition to the Lakers did not go smoothly. Nevertheless, he has been a professional about the whole situation, honestly conveying that being shut down was disappointing but that he understood it.
What’s not clear is what Mozgov’s role will be next season. He’s probably the favorite to start at the center position once again if he’s not traded during the summer (and it’s unlikely the Lakers will find a deal for him).
But the Lakers have two young power forwards and at least one young center that they consider integral parts of their young core. That’s not to mention guys like Tarik Black (who could be waived in order to save money but was the team’s best rim protector last year) and Luol Deng who is on a similarly lucrative deal and does his only acceptable work as a power forward at this stage of his career. They also have the 28th overall pick in the draft with which they could be selecting another big man.
The Lakers are not expected to contend for the playoffs next year unless something miraculous happens. So it’s fairly likely that Mozgov is once again benched at some point to give more playing time to Julius Randle, Larry Nance, Jr., and Ivica Zubac.
At some point, the Lakers will have to find a solution to their Mozgov problem. Whether that’s a trade that involves them shipping out assets to a team with cap space or it’s stretching the center’s contract over several years in the future, this is something that can’t continue for long.
For now, however, Mozgov will have the opportunity to compete for playing time. For the good of the team that paid him 64 million dollars over four years, let’s hope he can improve on last year’s performance.