After playing 13 minutes in the Lakers‘ 2017/18 regular season opener last October, Luol Deng didn’t appear in another game all year. According to Deng, that was an “organizational decision” that he respected, but didn’t necessarily agree with, as Stuart Hess of South African outlet IOL relays (hat tip to NBC Sports).
“Throughout the year I tried to play and every time they said they wanted to play the young guys, so that’s their direction,” Deng said this week as he prepares for the NBA Africa Game.
Having signed a four-year, $72MM contract in the summer of 2016, Deng is viewed as a negative asset due to his exorbitant salary, but believes he’s still capable of contributing to an NBA team. It seems unlikely he’ll get any more opportunities in 2018/19 than he did last season, however, given the arrival of LeBron James and other veterans, not to mention the Lakers’ continuing desire to develop their young players.
“I don’t know what’s going on now. Hopefully soon I will know. I would like to know the answers,” Deng said. “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.”
Since they didn’t end up needing to maximize their cap space to acquire a second star to complement James this summer, the Lakers have kept Deng on the roster. Waiving and stretching him would have created about $11MM in extra cap room, but it would’ve also meant taking on cap charges of $7MM+ for the next five years.
If L.A. keeps Deng under contract for another year, it will be far more palatable for the team to stretch his contract – or even try to trade him – next offseason. For his part, the veteran forward sounds as if he’ll get a little impatient as he waits for an opportunity to get back on the court.
“I want to play, I want to be a part of something,” Deng said. “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.”