The Los Angeles Lakers have a Luol Deng problem on their hands, and the franchise is “actively” working with his agent to find a solution via trade, reports Ramona Shelburne of ESPN. Deng has appeared in one game this season for the Lakers, playing a total of 13 minutes.
The Lakers are working the trade market, according to Shelburne, but unloading $53.9 million worth of salary running through 2019-2020 for the the 32-year-old veteran won’t be an easy task.
The Lakers do have several young players they could package with Deng, and have shown a willingness to make that kind of move as we saw when they unloaded Timofey Mozgov’s contract. The front office has been angling to clear as much cap space as possible to make a big splash in free agency next summer, and Deng’s contract remains as the last true obstacle to clear the decks.
Attaching Julius Randle is an interesting option that could be beneficial for the Lakers, but there would be short-term ramifications on the court. Julius has become an integral piece of the Lakers’ rotation, covering significant minutes as a small-ball center. That’s become doubly important as Larry Nance Jr. recovers from hand surgery for at least the next month.
Julius’ impending restricted free agency could leave the Lakers in a compromised position once the dominoes begin falling. They’ll have the option of matching any offer he agrees to, but whether that’s in the cards remains to be seen. If the Lakers aren’t planning on fitting Randle into their future salary considerations, finding a way to get value in return rather than losing him for nothing would be beneficial.
It’s a fine balance if the Lakers explore trading Randle, and the chances of them attaching an alternate “premium” piece like Kyle Kuzma or Brandon Ingram seems unlikely barring a much-larger trade.
What’s clear is head coach Luke Walton has little interest in working on a Luol reclamation project this season while developing the young core of the franchise. Deng understands that, and while he’s not thrilled with it personally, he’s approaching it as professionally as possible (Via ESPN):
"It definitely hurts," Deng told ESPN Monday after the Lakers practiced. "But the only answer for me now is to prove myself away from LA. I'm not asked to play, I'm not in the rotation so I can't prove myself here.
"Most of these young guys don't understand the business of basketball, so if I come in here and I'm angry every day, I'm taking something away from them. I have to be smiling, I have to be in the best mood I can be in, because they're living their dream of being an NBA player."
Deng is ready to move on from his unsuccessful stint in Los Angeles, but trading him on that hefty contract won’t be easy. A contract buyout also seems incredibly unlikely, as Deng would count against the Lakers’ salary numbers even after he’s off the team. Using the stretch provision on him would leave the Lakers having a portion of his salary on their books over the next five seasons.
There’s not a simple solution to this, but the front office looks to be exploring what options are out there for Deng at this point.