In an ideal scenario, NBA teams aren’t forced to bench their highest paid players. If they are, it’s usually because of injury, not because those players sitting makes the team better.
The Los Angeles Lakers 2016-17 season hasn’t been a normal situation. The team has the second-worst record in the entire NBA, and whether it’s due more to a shift towards a youth movement, their poor play, or both, head coach Luke Walton has benched Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng, the team’s two highest paid players.
Whether Mozgov and Deng should be making a combined $136 million combined over the course of their four-year deals isn’t really a question. Their play certainly hasn’t justified it, and the two certainly don’t project to improve as they get further into their 30’s.
Both veterans spoke to Mark Medina of the Orange County Register, and both are well aware that the fan base and media don’t think they should be making as much as they do:
“I don’t listen to it,” Deng said of the criticism about his contract. “I know people are on me. I know everybody is talking about it. I can’t control that. The only thing I can control is coming to the gym everyday and working.”
“I just do what I do,” Mozgov said about the pressure of playing up to his contract. “It’s not like I can jump over my head. I just do my stuff.”
Medina’s whole feature is worth a read for more on Deng and Mozgov’s thought processes regarding their own struggles in relation to their contracts, but the big takeaway is that the whole thing is just a crappy situation for everyone involved, relatively speaking.
Sure, Deng and Mozgov are making far more from the Lakers than they would be elsewhere, but it’s still obvious it sucks for them to not be playing. For the Lakers, it’s not ideal that they’re better off without their two-highest paid and least tradeable players on the floor.
It doesn’t seem likely to happen this summer, but this situation ultimately is most likely to end with the Lakers using the stretch provision on one of these deals, which would (as the name suggests) stretch the remaining cap hit of their deals over three times the length of the deal. It would leave dead money on the Lakers’ books, but if they aren’t playing either player anyway, they kind of already have that.
All stats per NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com. Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here), and you can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen.