Update: The Los Angeles Lakers confirmed that they have bought out Luol Deng, with general manager Rob Pelinka confirming that the move was made for cap space reasons.
“We want to thank Luol for his time with the Lakers,” Pelinka said in the press release confirming the move. “We made this move to further our future salary cap and roster flexibility, as we continue to build this Lakers team according to our current overall vision.”
Shams Charania of the Athletic was first with the news that the Lakers were looking to buy out the remaining two years and nearly $37 million remaining on Deng’s deal, while Chris Haynes of ESPN reported it was done soon after:
Sources: The Los Angeles Lakers and forward Luol Deng are finalizing a contract buyout as part of waive-and-stretch provision.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) September 1, 2018
Sides have been working on parting ways on remaining two years and $36.8M on Deng’s contract and reached agreement, allowing him to enter free agency. https://t.co/Oj0Sl6JFep— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) September 1, 2018
ESPN Sources: Luol Deng, Los Angeles Lakers agree to buyout and the upcoming free agent expected to receive interest from contending teams. https://t.co/93J8dP3kc3— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) September 1, 2018
According to Haynes, Deng has garnered considerable interest from
Tom Thibodeau and the Minnesota TimberBulls “several contenders.”
So, why buy out Deng now? Well, as Mark Deeks of Give Me Sport pointed out in a now prescient post from earlier this week and our own FanPoster plainfiction pointed out back on August 11, this was the first day the Lakers could do this while allowing them to stretch only the final year of Deng’s salary over multiple years. From plainfiction’s writeup:
Based on the CBA, that date marks the beginning of the new business year for the league as far as calculating contracts, so in essence, once we pass September 1st, were are officially in the 2018-2019 season. Once that happens this year’s salary for Deng (18,000,000) becomes fully committed, and can no longer be stretched. But that’s actually good news.
As described by Adrian Wojnarowski and Ian Begley in a story they did for ESPN regarding the Knicks facing the identical situation with Joakim Noah (2 more years, way too much money owed, and zero palpable trade options) the Lakers and Deng can basically leapfrog a whole year of uncomfortable DNP CDs if they waive him after September 1st, at that point stretching only the final year of his contract over the ensuing three seasons. In essence, with the 2018-2019 contract already a sunk cost, the Lakers would be stretching only the final year for Deng (18,810,000) over the summers of 2019, 2020, and 2021, but they’d be doing it now instead of next summer.
And while the Lakers could have held off on stretching Deng so as to trade him next year when he becomes an expiring contract and not have any long-term salary dedicated to the remnants of his contract, they are still fully opening up max cap space to target big fish in free agency next summer with this move, which would have been the main goal of such a trade anyway:
Before the stretch provision, Los Angeles was projecting to have $25M in room for next season. That number will increase to the $36-38M range once the Deng buyout/stretch is completed. The Lakers once again will have room for a max player next summer.— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) September 1, 2018
Wojnarwoski has since reported the actual amount that Deng gave up to be a free agent, which will open up a sizable amount of cap space for the Lakers next summer:
ESPN reporting with @ramonashelburne: In buyout with Lakers, Luol Deng walked away from $7.5M on the $36.8M left on his contract. With waive and stretch provision, Lakers have cleared $38M in salary cap space in 2019 free agency.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) September 1, 2018
So while the Lakers books are slightly less clean moving forward, that’s still enough space for any single players’ max, which is a big deal for the Lakers in a summer when names like Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler will be among the players potentially available.
Los Angeles and Deng working something out now signals how desperate to get out of the situation both sides were. For Deng, he has the opportunity to hit the open market and prove himself on his own terms two years earlier than had he waited out his contract. The Lakers can now use their newly-opened roster spot in any numbers of ways, even if there aren’t many notable names left in free agency.
This all might ultimately come down to the Lakers wanting to keep the locker room as positive a place as possible, and Deng becoming publicly annoyed with being there simply didn’t seem feasible for those involved, especially after his recent comments that being benched wasn’t his choice and Tania Ganguli of the L.A. Times reporting that Deng had “zero desire to be back with the Lakers.”
We’ll provide details as they become available, but the big takeaway here is that the Luol Deng saga is finally over. Just another reason for Lakers fans to celebrate this Labor Day Weekend.
*Updated at 10:48 a.m. to include the Lakers’ official announcement of the move.