Timofey Mozgov’s Los Angeles Lakers career has not gone the way he, or the Lakers, had hoped. The 30-year-old 7’1 big man signed a massive four-year, $64 million contract with the Lakers, agreeing to terms almost immediately once free agency began on July 1, 2016.
It was one of two shocking signings by the Lakers last summer, both of which look to be the final failed experiments by the Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss regime. Mozgov was shut down around the All-Star break, playing just 15 minutes in one game following the trade deadline passing.
Mozgov spoke with Russian sports site Championat.com and discussed his thoughts on being benched, something that apparently was even a “surprise” to Lakers head coach Luke Walton. From the sounds of things, the call to move Mozgov to the bench for the rest of the year came from over Walton’s head.
Here’s part of what Timofey had to say, as translated by Eurohoops.net:
“The coach told me about it before the game. It was a big surprise for me. Honestly, it was surprise to everyone, even coach Walton. I still don’t understand what motivated the management to make such decision. I did not try to find out the details. They don’t want to put me in, so I don’t want to also.”
Mozgov didn’t make an issue of it during the season, taking his movement to the bench in stride as the Lakers focused on developing Ivica Zubac. This also opened the path for players like Thomas Robinson and Tarik Black to get more playing time through the final stretch of the regular season.
It also sounds like Mozgov has had a hard time adjusting to life as Laker, with the two people he formed a bond with both out of the picture now:
“It was hard to leave the champs for a club that can’t even make the playoffs. Of course, it was hard. And this also applies to the players and their attitude. They face very different challenges. My best friend in the team was Marcelo Huertas, until he left. Still I had a good relationship with a guy who worked as an assistant coach on physical preparation. But he was fired. I get along well with everyone, I just can’t say that I am close to anyone”.
The Lakers were marginally better with Mozgov on the bench through the regular season, but to pin their problems on him alone isn’t fair. The problem, however, is the massive contract he was signed to came with almost no bang for the Lakers’ buck. Worse, Mozgov doesn’t exactly sound thrilled about how things have gone in LA since he signed his name on the line.
As Los Angeles moves further all-in to their rebuild under Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka, the youth movement is more focused than ever. The No. 2 pick will only exacerbate how poorly the slow-moving Mozgov fits with a team best fit to run up and down the court.
What that means for Timofey’s future with the franchise is unclear. The Lakers are going to have a hard time moving the remaining three years of his contract — all guaranteed — to another team without parting with one of their own assets. LA has a clear need at center, and the problem is they’re paying $15-16 million per year for a player that’s only added to an issue that’s plagued them for years.