While the buzz around the Los Angeles Lakers builds around LeBron James, the young core, and the band of misfits surrounding them, there’s one person who has been overshadowed. Since signing with the Lakers in 2016, Luol Deng has hardly been mentioned as part of the team with discussions surrounding the veteran based solely on what it would take to trade his sizable contract.
Deng appeared in only one game last season before being relegated to the end of the bench with no reported injuries keeping him out. While the forward has been at practice by all accounts, he seems to be quite distant from the organization as a whole.
Deng, who is participating in the 2018 NBA Africa Game alongside teammate JaVale McGee, spoke to Stuart Hess of Independent Online about the difficult situation and whether or not he thinks he can play a role on the Lakers (h/t Anthony Irwin of Silver Screen and Roll).
“I know the level I can play at and the decision is something they came up with, whatever the criticism or the plan is, none of it was my decision, people need to understand that. They can say whatever they want, I know I can play the game, they see me at practice every day. If it was a game thing then come out and say it, but the honest truth, it’s the decision they made.
“I want to play, I want to be a part of something. But I’m not going to be a part of a place where you don’t believe in me. I’m not trying to knock down anybody, but I play for people who believe in me. I’ve taken every opportunity since day one and proven myself, I’m not going to sit here and give you the right answer, I’m going to be honest about it, for me, if the respect and appreciation is not there then I’d rather be elsewhere.”
It seems pretty clear that Deng wants to be traded and of course the Lakers would be happy to oblige but not at the cost of an asset when they have no use for the cap space it would create. A buyout doesn’t make sense because the Lakers would still hold Deng’s contract on the books for the next two years rather than being able to use the money elsewhere in 2019. Stretching Deng now does not make sense because it would extend the hit of his remaining 36 million dollars over five seasons instead of extending 18 million over three seasons if it is done next year.
The Lakers reportedly consider Deng all but retired so who knows if he really does have anything left in the tank. Injuries and father time have clearly taken a toll on him but he could find a role somewhere in the league. It just doesn’t seem likely that a move will happen for the next year.
It’s a difficult situation for both parties and Deng has, by all accounts, been professional throughout the ordeal. It’s hard to feel bad for someone making so much money but when your life is playing basketball, you want to play basketball. Perhaps, Deng will finally make his way onto the court in this season.