After only appearing in one game for 13 minutes last season, it appears that Los Angeles Lakers forward Luol Deng may be ready to call it a career.
Deng, a 14-year NBA veteran and two-time All-Star, was signed to a four-year deal worth $72 million during the infamous summer of 2016, which saw a spike in available cap space that resulted in a number of questionable contracts handed out.
Unfortunately for the Lakers, Deng has yet to come close to living up to his hefty salary, averaging just 7.6 points in 56 games played in 2016-17 and then he was relegated to the bench for nearly all of last season.
According to Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report, an anonymous Lakers executive suggested that Deng has essentially retired:
The executive said Deng is all but semi-retired. He may never play again in the NBA unless he has a change of heart.
Despite this, the Lakers will still have to pay Deng his remaining salary and it will count against their cap space unless they can show that he is refusing to play. After all, it isn’t Deng’s fault that the deal was offered to him, even if the inevitable decline associated with age did catch up to him quickly.
Still, Deng’s contract has been problematic for the Lakers, who have essentially been rebuilding their roster with one-arm tied behind their backs since their second-highest paid player isn’t providing anything on the floor.
They managed to land LeBron James this summer, which was a major coup, but one can only imagine what would have been possible had Deng’s $18 million in cap space also been free to use.
Since he is under contract, the Lakers can trade Deng, but opposing teams will want a hefty fee to absorb that much dead money onto their books. With free agency all but over, the Lakers don’t have a pressing reason to pay the price to move him, and instead will likely wait until next summer when there is only one year left on the deal.
Los Angeles could also opt to stretch Deng’s contract next summer if a trade doesn’t materialize, which would allow them to spread out the $18.8 million owed to Deng in 2019-20 over three seasons at almost $6.3 million per, which would free up about $12.5 million in cap room.
Regardless of what route they take, it appears that, for now, Deng will continue to occupy a roster spot on the team and get paid, but it’s unlikely that he will return to action on the court.
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