Luol Deng hasn’t seen much of the court since signing that infamous deal worth $72 million over four years back in the summer of 2016 with the Los Angeles Lakers. As unlikely as it may seem, he wants to change that and still thinks he can help this team.
“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 can’t imagine very many people out there really think Deng has been holding himself out for any reason, but this should absolutely end that discussion. He’s healthy and, while he is obviously overpaid, if the Lakers think they can get any kind of valuable minutes from him this season, they really should take a closer look.
Unless it takes away from minutes for younger guys, there’s really no downside, because Deng says he wants to be on the floor. However, if the Lakers won’t allow that, then he wasn’t shy about saying he’d rather be on another team that will give him minutes:
“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.”
This is where it’s important to note that some around the Lakers essentially consider Deng retired, and that’s where things get kind of tricky. Deng can want to be elsewhere and talk about that desire as much as he wants, but the Lakers made it clear this offseason they didn’t want to use assets to move his contract and unless he wants to take a hefty paycut in a buyout, he’s pretty much stuck in L.A.
Deng has spoken about wanting to be moved before, but nothing has changed since he mentioned that last November to Ramona Shelburne of ESPN. And to be clear, but all accounts, Deng has been very professional in his handling of this ordeal as it pertains to his teammates and coaches.
It’s a tough situation. No one chose to be involved in the type of stalemate Deng and the Lakers currently exist in. The front office didn’t sign Deng to this contract and when Deng signed it, he was probably promised a prominent role in the Lakers’ plans. Now, everyone is just kind of stuck together so, frankly, the best way forward might just to be seeing what Deng has to offer and if that’s nothing, then you tell him to enjoy his continued vacation and buy him out next summer.
Rob Pelinka will be in Africa with him and will have a front-row seat as Deng tries to prove he has something left in the tank. Maybe the two can come to some kind of understanding over their time together in the coming week, but if not, this stalemate will continue and neither side is really at fault for that.