The Los Angeles Lakers’ pursuit of cap space for two max contracts this summer is well-known. The organization made it clear when they traded away a talented prospect in D’Angelo Russell in order to convince the Brooklyn Nets to take on Timofey Mozgov’s contract.
The next big hurdle in creating cap space is Luol Deng, who will have two years of a massive four-year contract remaining with about $37 million still on the books.
The Lakers will look to find a trade partner that will take on Deng’s contract but according to ESPN’s front office insider Bobby Marks, they will not take the risk of adding top-tier assets as sweeteners. Following from Marks (Insider):
“Unlike the Mozgov trade that cost L.A. 2015 No. 2 pick D’Angelo Russell, the Lakers will not take that approach with Deng. Sources close to the team told ESPN that they will not attach a first-round pick to the Deng contract to shed his salary. Starting in 2019, the Lakers will be in control of their own first-round picks (the 2018 first is owed to Philly or Boston) and attaching multiple firsts to shed Deng’s contract would be reckless.”
Marks’ quote reads a little strange considering the Lakers did not attach any future first-round picks in the Russell trade. Regardless, it seems as though Marks’ report is indicating that the Lakers want to hold on to their first-round picks in case their plan does not go the way they intend.
It’s going to be really difficult to get rid of Deng’s contract without attaching such a valuable asset, however. The team has some players it could use in such a trade; Julius Randle would seem to be the most likely candidate given that his role on this team is constantly in question. However, any team trading for Randle would have to be willing to give him the huge payday he deserves while still paying Deng that much money.
The Lakers have deemed Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram untouchable. Kyle Kuzma is likely in the same category given his status as the new regime’s biggest accomplishment to date as a draft day steal.
If the Lakers fail to trade Deng into cap space, they would have the option of stretching his contract. Doing so at the conclusion of this season would distribute Deng’s cap hit of roughly $37 million over the next five seasons (about $7.4 million per season). That wouldn’t create the right amount of cap space and it would require a lot more transactions to get to the right number. Nevertheless, it seems like the most likely option right now.