If not for his enormous contract being a consistent point of contention, it would be hard to blame Lakers fans if they forgot about Luol Deng’s presence on the team. But Deng is still in LA, in year two of a four-year deal that will affect the Lakers’ plan to sign two superstar free agents next summer.
Deng had a somewhat promising preseason in the few appearances he made, looking noticeably sprier than he did all of last season. Nevertheless, that progress has not resulted in more opportunities for the veteran forward. After starting in the Lakers’ season opener for the suspended Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Deng has received two straight DNP decisions from head coach Luke Walton.
Walton recently spoke about those decisions and indicated that Deng being inactive is something that will be the norm for most of the season. Following via Bill Oram of the Orange County Register:
“As of now he’s not in the rotation as far as consistently penciled in without something happening,” Walton said.
“We’ve talked,” Walton said. “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.”
Deng has been a professional despite now being benched for portions of two straight seasons. However, this is just another black mark on the decision to sign Deng to such a massive contract, in the first place.
The Lakers can’t play Deng because he takes minutes away from younger players and because he doesn’t help the team win games. But by not playing him, they can’t increase his trade value from the valley that it’s currently sitting in.