The Los Angeles Lakers seem to be throwing everyone for a loop this offseason. A franchise known to seek out big names has thrown major long-term money at aging veterans. The Lakers handed out $64 million to Timofey Mozgov and followed up with a $72 million contract for Luol Deng. While many see these contracts as a sign of desperation for the franchise, the Deng signing is actually one that will benefit the Lakers both immediately and in the long run.
Deng is a 12-year NBA veteran with a great reputation (unless the judge is an anonymous scout). He is known to be a hard worker and team player, and his ten year tenure with the Bulls coincided with the franchise’s most promising era since the Jordan days. Deng doesn’t demand attention or recognition. He’s simply going to do whatever it takes for the team to be successful.
That unselfishness and work ethic is what makes Deng valuable. His impact on the young Lakers will be profound. He won’t take away their opportunities, but he will work with them and help instill new head coach Luke Walton’s culture. Walton won’t have to publicly air grievances about players not working hard because Deng will naturally carry Walton’s message to the younger players. He will show up in the gym and on the court ready to give 110 percent, as he always has done.
Deng is playing fewer minutes per game than his Chicago days, but he is still a strong contributor on the court. He will likely be the Lakers best defender and will be tasked with matching up with the opposing team’s best player, something the Lakers haven’t been able to do successfully since 2011. He is also a great rebounder for his position. Expect the Lakers to give a better effort defensively this season with Deng leading the way.
On the other end, Deng can attack the basket and hit outside shots. He won’t demand touches, but he will score when necessary. Deng shot 34 percent from deep during the regular season, which is around the league’s average. In the postseason, that jumped to 42 percent. Deng was also a good finisher around the rim, converting 67 percent of his chances 0-3 feet from the hoop, according to basketball-reference. His offensive game has deteriorated with age, but he will add some stability and his understanding of the game should ease the pressure on the younger Lakers.
Deng is not worth $72 million on the court, but his impact in the locker room and practice will be well worth that amount. After suffering through the presences of Nick Young and Roy Hibbert, the Lakers will finally have a veteran who won’t pout about the game plan but will follow it down to the last detail. He will help change the culture of an organization looking to get back to the championship-level play it has come to expect.
Los Angeles isn’t paying Deng to be the franchise star. They're paying him to help develop the next one.