When the Los Angeles Lakers originally signed Luol Deng two summers ago, the plan was for him to be a veteran leader for an extremely young team. That idea quickly changed however, once the previous Lakers regime was removed.
Once Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka took over as president of basketball operations and general manager, respectively, it was decided that the Lakers would go with the youth. Deng sat out the last 22 games of last season and, after starting the first game of this season, hasn’t seen the floor again.
That’s held true even when the Lakers lacked depth for their game against the Miami Heat. Deng still is around for every practice and does a lot of mentoring of the younger players, but he admitted in an interview with Bill Plaschke of the L.A. Times, to still being surprised by the complete change of plans:
“I’ve never before seen a guy brought over to make a change, but then there was a different change,” Deng said. “I had no idea I wasn’t going to be part of the plan […] This is going to be a phase in my career when I look back and wonder, how could this have happened?” Deng said.
One thing that has stood out about Deng is his professionalism. The likes of Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma completely respect him, Luke Walton has constantly praised him, and Rob Pelinka made sure to compliment him after Magic Johnson made a joke about not being able to trade him, noting that he has been unbelievable in this tough set of circumstances.
Deng is in a position that very few players have ever been a part of. Even though he is making a lot of money, it is extremely difficult for a competitor to not be able to help his teammates on the court. The Lakers still plan on resolving the situation eventually, but until then Deng continues to be the consummate professional, even if as he struggles accepting the role.
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