We knew the Lakers had a need for a wing. While they just drafted Brandon Ingram, he’s the only SF currently on the team who I expect to be on the team when the season starts. The Lakers need more options, period.
Late Friday night it was reported that they had offered Kent Bazemore a 4 year contract worth $72 million. Bazemore turned them down and re-signed with the Hawks instead. The Lakers, then took that same money and offered it to someone else. They got their man.
Free agent Luol Deng has reached agreement on a four-year, $72 million deal with the Los Angeles Lakers, league sources tell The Vertical.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) July 2, 2016
My first two thoughts about this deal are 1. I really like Deng and 2. I am still getting used to the amount of money in these contracts. I do the math conversions in my head and understand the economics how the rise in cap is impacting deals, but I’m just not used to seeing the actual numbers yet.
As for Deng’s deal specifically, the average annual salary is totally reasonable to me in these new economics. It might not be exactly where I would want it, but that’s fine. The bigger question is the length of the deal at 4 years. Deng just turned 31 in April. Unless there are options or a non or partial-guaranteed year at the end of this deal, it will pay Deng through his 35th birthday.
Deng has played over 31 thousand minutes in his career, regular season and playoffs combined. He played heavy, high intensity minutes for Tom Thibodeau’s Bulls where he often played through the types of ailments he shouldn’t have. There is a legitimate question of how well Deng will age or whether his body will begin to break down in the next couple of years.
The flip side of this is that Deng is still a very good basketball player. When thinking of the archetype of player the Lakers would want to add, Deng checks a lot of boxes. Though not at the level of his peak, Deng is still a very good defensive player, both individually and in executing team concepts. He can shoot, pass, attack off the dribble, work some from the post, and score at the rim. His shot chart doesn’t show elite level shooting from any one place, but it shows a nice versatility the Lakers can leverage.
Deng is also a wonderful locker room presence and the type of veteran voice the Lakers really need. Above I wrote about how Deng would play through many ailments he maybe shouldn’t have. This speaks to the type of commitment and professionalism he possesses. Deng is a team first player who leads by example; he helps set a standard and culture for any team he’s on. Considering the young players the Lakers have, this will be an invaluable part of his role for this specific team.
While I love the skill-set and locker room fit, there are still some questions about how exactly Deng will fit into the lineup. While at his peak Deng was a pure wing, at this stage of his career he has settled into more of a SF/PF hybrid. After Bosh’s blood clot scare in Miami, Deng slid up to PF almost full time and excelled there. This positional versatility will help the Lakers, for sure, but it also somewhat complicates things based off their current roster construction.
The Lakers just drafted Brandon Ingram at SF. They have Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr. at PF. Shuffling where Deng fits into this group or how the young players’ minutes are impacted is worth monitoring. That said, if Luke Walton really is trying to bring some of the Warriors’ style of play with him to Los Angeles, I can imagine lineups where Deng flanks Russell, Ingram, Randle, and Clarkson (or Nance) in a lineup which features a bunch of similarly sized players who can all make decisions with the ball, switch defensively, and play all over the floor.
In other words, Deng has the ability to unlock different lineup combinations which weren’t really possible before. This should excite Lakers fans and his younger teammates.
Will Deng start or be a reserve? Will his presence push Brandon Ingram to the bench? Will he play more minutes as a pure SF or will he still be a PF for half or more of his minutes? These are legitimate questions. And when it all plays out, I’m not sure if we will always like the answers.
But, make no mistake, the Lakers added a very good basketball player who will help them a great deal. Maybe the deal is a year too long (though, we will know more about that when the full details are available). And maybe it’s a bit more money than I would like it to be. And maybe the fit isn’t perfect.
But from the standpoint of what he brings to the floor with his versatility and skill set, to the locker room with his work ethic and veteran leadership, and to the franchise in terms being a legitimate add in a free agent period where it looked like the team might strike out on “name” players, this is a wonderful add.
I know fans might question the front office, but in a period where it’s clear the Lakers aren’t competing for the top-tiered guys, they were going to have to spend some money on guys to help build the team. Deng fits that role to a tee and I am happy to have him.