By nature, I am someone who tries to see the good in players. As someone who is constantly examining team building and roster construction I cannot ignore player weaknesses, but those truths must be mixed with what a player does well to paint a full picture. Then, the ultimate goal, is to build a roster which can simultaneously cover up as many of its players’ weaknesses while optimizing as many of their strengths. This is how you get a team that can produce at a level that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Thinking about this brings me to Luol Deng. We don’t need to re-legislate the past, but Deng is overpaid. That happened the second he signed his deal in July 2016. He makes roughly $18 million a year and did not produce on the court at a level approaching that this past season. Deng posted a PER of 10.1 and had an Offensive Real Plus Minus of -1.51 (which ranked 50th among all small forwards in the league). Not promising, especially in the first year of his contract.
These don’t paint a good picture for Deng and his future on the Lakers. However, the contract he signed last summer gives the Lakers limited options in terms of finding an adequate solution for all sides. I mean, realistically, they could do one of the following four things this summer/heading into next season:
- Waive him outright.
- Waive him using the stretch provision.
- Trade him.
- Bench him permanently/make him a fringe rotation player.
Actually, there’s a fifth option too. But we’ll get to that in a second. Of the four above, I’d argue none of those will actually happen this summer.
Waiving him requires the Lakers eat his entire salary and take enormous cap hits in the process. Using the stretch provision on him makes the cap hits more reasonable, but keeps Deng on the books for seven more seasons (years remaining on his contract, multiplied by two, plus one). Deng’s contract, as a standalone, is not tradable. The Lakers would need to include an asset with him, which they have too few of already. And, finally, it’s simply not viable to pay a player as much as Deng will make to not play/be a break-in-case-of-emergency player. Deng is a good locker room guy and a respected veteran, but even he would likely rebel against that for another full season (or longer).
So, where does that leave Deng? Well, let’s get back to the first paragraph above.
Ideally, the Lakers need to find a way to optimize Deng’s game while minimizing his weaknesses in order to help him be a productive player. And, if you ask Deng how that happens, it’s by playing him at PF rather than at SF where he spent most of this past season. From Mark Medina of the LA Daily News:
“In terms of my future,” Deng said, “I would like to play at the 4 more.”
And then, this:
“The style that we played, I had a hard time with it,” Deng said of Walton’s offense. “I’ve always kind of read the game and relied on my IQ. Not taking anything away from my skills or anything, but it’s very hard to adapt to a new system that fast.”
“The 3 is more of a spot-up position for a lot of teams. I think I struggle with that,” Deng said. “I have to find a way, and I think Luke agrees, to get back to moving and being involved in screens. I can always read screens, slip in or cut. That’s where I really perform best. I have a knack for rebounding. A lot of times at the 3, you have to get back to balance the floor.”
Deng played well at PF for the Heat before coming to the Lakers. Per 82games.com, Deng posted a PER of 17.8 as a PF his last season in Miami. He stretched the floor well and was able to unlock more of the aspects of his game he mentioned to Medina.
Some of the data from this past season helps back this up too. While his positional PER was not as good (11.6 as a PF this past season), the lineup data says that the Lakers performed better when Deng was on the floor next to Brandon Ingram than when he was playing SF in more traditional lineups next to two more traditional bigs.
Of the 20 most frequently used lineups Deng appeared in, 10 of them had a positive plus/minus. Of those 10 lineups, seven were where he played PF. Now, the sample size of these groups are small and it should be noted that the lineup with the largest sample — the starting lineup with Russell, Young, Randle, and Mozgov flanking Deng — came with Lu at SF. But, when you consider seven of the 10 positive lineups had him at PF and that eight of the 10 negative lineups had him at SF, we start to see a trend of which personnel groupings work best with Deng in the lineup and that he’s playing PF in most of those.
So, move Deng to PF full time next year, right? That’s the easy solution? Well, it’s not that easy.
While we all know the Lakers aren’t just going to bring back the same team next season, an analysis of where the roster stands now says that there are simply not a lot of PF minutes to go around. Julius Randle is the starting PF. Larry Nance Jr. is his back up. At some point in the coming couple of seasons, Brandon Ingram will also start to command at least short stretches at PF. Even if you remove Ingram from the equation, one has to imagine just splitting 48 minutes between Randle and Nance creates a crunch. Add Deng to that mix and a young player the team is investing in will get squeezed.
What would seemingly be a simple solution to this problem would be to play Randle or Nance at C more often to open up some minutes at PF. However, when that happens, the Lakers are then infringing on minutes at that spot. And, again, while the roster situation is fluid, as it stands now the Lakers have Mozgov, Tarik Black, and Ivica Zubac at that spot already. So, giving Randle/Nance minutes there cuts into those players’ minutes, creating a ripple effect which crunches the minutes of every front-court rotation player.
So, do you try optimize Deng at the expense of minutes for Randle, Nance, or Ingram at PF? Or do you do it at the expense of Zubac, Black, or Mozgov at C? Some of these problems may work themselves out simply because some of these guys may not even be on the team next year, but as of today, these are real considerations which need to be planned for.
Ultimately, the answers to these questions may come down to what is valued more and what helps the team the most. Maybe optimizing Deng and getting value from his contract matters more than further development for Zubac/Black or getting Mozgov minutes. Or, maybe Deng’s floor spacing and defensive ability at the PF spot actually help the team more than getting Nanc/Randle minutes at C in small lineups.
While this summer will offer multiple sub-plots — the lottery, the draft, free agency — that end up shaping how the next Laker team looks, the answers above will also matter. And, like Deng himself, I’m interested in seeing how it all plays out and what role he’s slotted into next season — if he’s on the team at all.
If I understand the CBA correctly, the Lakers could stretch-waive Deng and, if another team signs him, whatever salary Team X pays Deng is deducted from the Lakers’ obligations (both in money and cap space).
Maybe $4-$5 million in “dead money” on the Lakers’ salary over the next few years (assuming Deng signs elsewhere for not much) is better than continuing to have him clog the forward rotation.
Marco Italy says
No doubt he may perform better at PF but he won’t be getting younger next year nor in the remaining years on his contract. The dynamic duo must have been really desperate to give him this contract since it was widely known prior to his signing that he could give his best at PF and that he was already past his prime. Now his prime looks really far away and three more years on the books is hard to accept.
Let’s hope the new Lakers brass can do some real magic!
Roger S says
The only minutes this guy should get is garbage minutes. Any & all minutes should be given to the youngsters. The Lakers brass should suck it up on this contract & Mozgov’s and eat their contracts.
Question- can the team & Deng come to a mutual buyout?
All the Lakers have to do is let him know that if he stays with team he will not play another minute. But if he agrees to a buyout, he can find employment elsewhere & get play meaningful minutes.
What the heck was Kupchak & Buss thinking?
Trade Randle. He’s our best bait for an asset without giving up Russell or Ingram. Play Deng at the 4 with Nance his backup.
There goes the baby, but we get to keep the bathwater! 😛
Great idea, Nancy can also defend. It’s center and the Moz contract that is going to take something creative.
Craig W. says
When looking at Deng, it is really, really important to forget his salary – yes, forget his salary. It is past history and we need to be looking forward. If we have a chance to deal him to someone who needs a PF, great, but we can’t plan on that.
If Randle’s ceiling is Blake Griffith, then we need to think about moving him. If we need to resign him to make him a better known value, then that’s what we have to do. He has some really good skills, but his weaknesses are hard to cover up in this offense. We would need a guard/wing player, with some defense, coming back to better balance our team. This gets us to a better balance to utilize Deng in the role he is most effective in.
Not sure what is so difficult about all this. Randle may very well come back to haunt us in later years, but the fork in the road is this summer – not in two years.
Since Deng is under contract for three more years, his salary is not past history.
I am in the butt head camp and in favor of making Deng the 3rd PF at best. Yes he has had a great career but that is in the rear view mirror. The Lakers do not need to nurse another veteran along for any reason (including increasing trade value). The Lakers may have to make a tough decision about Randle and Nance and need all of the data they can get.
ESPN the magazine has a great article about LeBron and the physical limits of NBA players. To date the Lakers do not seem to buy into much of what was said. In spite of that, it makes sense to start sitting all players on a regular basis during the regular season to keep them fresh and able to play at their highest level. Against that backdrop, having 2 solid players at each position becomes a necessity to avoid drop offs in the talent on the court. SA has been doing this for years now and it really pays off come playoff time.
mitchell d steinman says
From the start of the season it was painfully obvious that neither Randle or Nance fit into the pace and SPACE offense that Luke was so geeked to run and while he made the big boy decision to start and give ample playing time to Swaggy based on him being the best all around fit to the starting lineup, Luke seemed to not even consider making the hard call re Deng and Randle which in my humble opinion absolutely hurt DAR’s early season growth because he was forced to play in a constantly crowded half court set void of any spacing.
The biggest question is:. Are we going to continue to talk growth of youth or are we going to put forth the absolute best line-up according to our talent??
I said pretty much the same thing in a post that may have had too much trade speculation in it. The jist is moving Randle to fill another weakness and playing Deng at the Four.
Randle is the first kid up for his second deal so by moving him you could possibly maintain more cap space through next summer.
Concerned – yes that does make sense and I think Randle as he is now is pretty much what he’s going to be – an awkward way of saying he’s close to his ceiling.
Rob Pelinka says
Optimizing Luol Deng is actually the best move possible. Hear me out.
In today’s NBA, its easy to forget what the player has done in the previous 2-3 seasons. Everything is so fast (well, except when you lose night in and night out) and the league is gearing towards a certain style of play that supposedly the Warriors made famous. Just for perspective, Don Nelson already did this and he was touted as a madman. Mike D’Antoni improved this and he was called a Mike Antoni coz his team plays no D. Now, rookie coach Steve Kerr sprinkles fairy dust and a little zen thinking and this becomes the new in-thing. Mind you, Greg Popovich has reinvented himself way before this got famous.
Going back onto the point, maximizing Deng, playing him at the 4 and giving him max output is actually the best strategy moving forward. This way, he looks better; Teams will see that he is overpaid but useful; Teams will actually inquire; Teams will eventually trade for him.
Now that doesn’t quite fit in well for the development of Randle (whom I’ve come to despise) and Nance (someone who I believe will be the long-term solution at the 4). However, looking at our situation team first, being able to trade Deng is actually more beneficial than anything else.
Start him, play him at the 4. It makes his lessened mobility less glaring to opponents. He isn’t a great rebounder, but he isn’t bad at that either. He will get 7+ a night on the right system. Since Walton is the coach, its the right strategy to do. Showcase him then find a taker on or before the deadline. Don’t be too picky, just find neutral value and someone who’s skillset can compliment what we have.
As for Randle, I also intend to trade him along w/ Clarkson.
Rick in Seattle says
Rob you have made a couple of very valid points:
1) Yes, keep Deng another year at least, nobody is going to trade for a declining 31 yr. old. But he does play two positions. With MWP & Robinson probably departing, keeping Deng at least another year makes sense.
2) Deng is now recovering from surgery, making his trade opportunities even less.
3) Mozgov is a year younger & $2 mil cheaper, and is at the very least a competent back-up center, and a potential starter for a few teams. He has trade value. Make him your trade focus for the off-season.
4) Lopez will be entering his final season. Nets will lose him for nothing unless they trade him before the deadline. I would offer them Mozgov or Deng, and Brewer, plus the 28th pick. If Lopez plays well for the Lakers, he is resigned. If not, he gives them instant cap space.
5) Depending on how well Cousins works out in NO, maybe they are open to trading him next season. Not every NBA team wants Cousins, but I believe he would be a good add for the Lakers. In 2018, Cousins (if not resigned) can leave NO in free agency, the same as P.George in Indy. Therefore, NO might be tempted to take a combo like Clarkson, Randle & a future 1st round pick, rather than losing Cousins for nothing!
6) Rob, can you & Magic prioritize finding a new home for Mozgov (and/or Deng)?
All the best in your new position! Let’s clean house!
The probllem is I don’t think the Laker can easily get out of both Deng and Mozgov’s contracts. Deng checks the list of many desirable skills for the Lakers PF. Outside range, defends, and makes good reads.
I’d use Randle to package with Mozgov with the idea of shedding salary by the end of next sseason. Mozgov just doens’t have an alternative path to making him fit.
I also think the Lakers need to start looking to acquire a star guy via trade. The Lakers are proably too young overall with the creeping prospect that only palying with other young guys they are not developing as much as they could. The guys available in free agency tend to be older and make more of a finishing move rather than a rebuilding move.
I’m somewhat skeptical about going for PG. I’d love to have him but, you might have to give up too much to acquire him leading to him leaving the following year. He also would overlap a lot with Deng whom would becoem an expensive back up. I think the best tactical move f the Lakers really want PG is to wait for free agency or as a second trade move that makes more sense after the first.
Lastly I believe the Lakers need to be at a decision point with most of their “young” core by the end of next season before the salary cap ties their hands and the young core isn’t so young anymore.
A Horse With No Name says
The optimal scenario is a buy out, with the idea that Deng gives up some money to play elsewhere, and the lakers are okay to absorb the loss–good luck there. Unless there is a move to be made this off-season, he likely stays for at least this year. That cuts down the stretch years by one if they decide to go that route next off-season. The truth is that there may not be any great advantage to moving Deng this off-season–or Mozgov for that matter–if there isn’t a deal to make this summer that really moves the rebuild forward. They aren’t giving Randle away. Flaws and all, he is still a young and developing player with serious upside. It’s up to the team to see if they can help him reach his ceiling. player development has to be the calling card for the Luke era if the team is going to get off the mat. (How much would it take to pry away Jeanie’s high school boyfriend, Chip Engelland, from the Spurs to be their new shooting coach?)
Roger S: What were Jim/Mitch thinking about in regards to Mozgov and Deng?
Jim/Mitch were thinking about saving their jobs. If the signings helped the Lakers get the 8th seed then they likely keep their jobs and they would have a new lease on life. If it didn’t work out then the Mozgov/Deng mess would be someone else’s problem to clean up.
This is why Jeanie can’t be held without fault. She waited far too long to make a change. Not to be a Debbie Downer, but the odds are far greater than zero that the Lakers are stuck: Lose the 17/19 draft picks, can’t attract elite free agent while cap space is available and are left with a middling team (young but with a definite ceiling) for the rest of the decade. The FO would have no choice but to blow it up and try again.
Craig W. says
Continually rehashing Deng/Moz simply does nothing going forward. Yes, their salaries do count, but they are here. We need to use them as best we can while we have them – and trade them if we can.
If Deng is best at the 4, then play him there, increase his trade value, and make a decision on him when we have a choice.
Randle is not likely to fit our system, long term. He has this summer to see if he can change some of his spots, but if we can get something that will deepen our wing/PG play, then we should consider trading him. We do have Deng and Nance.
Again, this isn’t very hard – and isn’t a new perspective: see several posts in this thread. What we don’t need to do is continue to comment on how bad Deng/Moz contracts are. That type of observation does nothing to make the Lakers better, no matter how long their contracts are.
Except, that as mattal points out, they may provide constraints that limit the upside of this Lakers team. It is agreed we must accept them (the bad contracts) but this acceptance does not minimize the downside potential they represent or the below average performance they deliver on the floor.
In a hard cap league contracts such as Mozgov/Deng are an impediment especially to teams like the Lakers that need additional talent to avoid being a perpetual 8 to 10 seed.
I think Magic will attempt to trade with Indiana to get Paul George now. Bird’s incentive will be to get fresh young guys for his rebuild, and particularly if LAL keeps their lottery pick, they will be overloaded with young guys and vets past their prime, and no studs IN their prime. Trading TWO members of the core to get George now with a high degree of confidence he will resign here if other moves are to his liking, surrounded by a still large # of evolving young players, would be attractive. Thus, I could see Clarkson/Nance going for Paul George. If that happens, I don’t think they would be afraid to stretch Deng to get him off the books, confident, as someone said, he will sign with someone and that hit over many years can be palatable and eventually mitigated. Then, you could see a scenario where they give up TWO members of the core, receive Paul George in return, sign him to a longterm deal and also have a lottery pick, and the Houston first rounder in the fold. These pieces and elements MIGHT be enough to lure a Blake or a Hayward to join Paul George and lead the reconstituted LAL. Would Paul George plus a bunch of young rising talent, on a team Blake, for example, could co-lead but not have to play as many minutes and get as beat up, be more attractive to him than yet another go-round with a failing Clipper squad whose window is closing? So I see Deng or Mozgov, one of them leaving but probably Deng because his contract is longer, and Mozgov plays a position, center, where they would not have a glut of flexible, interchangeable players. He can still block shots and start or come off the bench. Imagine deleting two players I really like, Clarkson and Nance, and also deleting Deng, and replacing them with Lonzo Ball, Paul George, and Blake Griffin? It could happen. Or something along those lines. You never know. What I do know is that Magic is going to try. He’s not going to stand pat and be satisfied with incremental 6-8 game improvements each year from a squad of youngsters. Youngsters only never win in the NBA. Ask Minnesota.
i wonder where team defense comes into Magic’s thinking in your scenario. You trade the only two existing players with defensive potential–Nance and Deng–and leave us with two guards with a lot to learn, and both senior and junior power forwards who regularly turns up in the lost and found. Maybe Zu would show up, and Ingram/George might be acceptable, but Timofey has not shown himself to be a rim protector.
With those defenders, who do you think the Lakers can beat?
Trading Nance and Clarkson wouldn’t be enough to get George. Maybe Randle/Clarkson and the 28th pick?
I think signing Blake is a bad move as he’ll be on the injured list for 40% of his games over the 4 years of his deal.
A team based on PG, Blake, Ingram, Russell, Deng, Nance, Zubac and Mozgov feels like a 7 to 10 seed. They would be injury prone (Blake and Nance) and would have trouble with quick/athletic front lines.
A Horse With No Name says
If you think a top ten player in his prime can be had for two borderline starters, well then, you should be buying bridges. And Blake Griffin? Honestly, this guy is done: can’t stay healthy over two seasons; has pretty much lost his explosiveness and was never a good defender. What a terrible signing that would be for the lakers. Lawd have mercy!
This year, Luol Deng might well be the Swaggy P of 2017: a player that can make major contributions at the 4–a complete package of offense and defense–a model for some of his teammates. At some point, he might be a desirable acquisition.
Timing is always the key. Each month, Luol costs less to a potential trading partner. The cash crunch–if it happens–might not happen in 2017 at all. Maybe Minnesota wants him right away. Maybe it will happen in 2018. Maybe not at all. Just remember the old song: love the one you’re with.
Renato Afonso says
Craig W. has a point here. Discussing Mozgov and Deng’s value as players is far different from discussing their contracts. Yes, their contracts are as bad as it gets but they are still rotation players on any NBA team, so let’s talk basketball only.
When he was signed I tought of Deng as the needed veteran SF that could do the right things. I should’ve watch more Miami Heat games… His legs are gone. He can still make a good read and make the right play. But the legs don’t allow him to be as fast as he once was. He is indeed a valuable PF and deserves minutes. The problem is the logjam at PF with Randle and Nance. So, again, the question is: are Randle or Nance the Lakers’ future at PF?
If the answer is yes for one of them, the Lakers might have to trade the other and have Deng compete for minutes with the remaining one. That’s the good basketball decision.
“are Randle or Nance the Lakers’ future at PF?”
That’s an excellent question and let’s hope the revamped FO is asking themselves this.
I do wonder how the latter’s chronic health issue may effect his durability, and again how much further development we are likely to see from the former.
It is presumptuous, as well as misguided, to try to direct people not to talk about the Deng and Mozgov contracts, especially at the beginning of the off-season, when the primary topic is going to be player moves and roster construction. The Deng and Mozgov deals will affect everything that Magic and Pelinka do and don’t do this off-season, other than perhaps the draft. So, no, Craig does not have a point. He is just doing his usual thing of expressing annoyance when people talk about the team in ways that he personally does not like and thinks are too negative.
That said, I agree with you that Deng’s legs are gone, and said so many months ago; and I agree with Craig that this is not that complicated. The only way to get anything out of Deng is to play him at the 4, and to play him at the 4, the Lakers probably need to trade Nance or Randle.
Deng’s career 3p% is .332, but he did have a few years in his prime when he was pretty good from the arc. He shot .355 and .344 on 3s in Miami. So, Deng should probably be hoping that the FO trades Randle as part of a George deal, because in that scenario the Lakers would looking to compete immediately and they might consider plugging Deng is as the starting 4 alongside George. Another possibility might be using Deng as a 10-12 MPG “Stretch 5” in smallball lineups, and play him alongside Randle to give Randle more space to attack the rim.
But, ultimately, the best thing to do with Deng and Mozgov is to get them off the roster somehow, since given where the Lakers are, the cap space would be valuable to them than anything Deng and Mozgov are going to do on the court would be.
Reportedly, Larry Bird is stepping down as President of the Indiana Pacers. He will remain with the team as a consultant:
Whether or not this affects the immediate availability of Paul George via a potential trade remains to be seen. Kevin Pritchard, Indiana’s current General Manager, will replace Bird as the team’s top basketball decision-maker.
LT Mitchell says
Bird knows that a Paul George trade is inevitable and my guess is that he does not want to be at the helm when it happens. This along with the complications of dealing with his bromance partner, Magic, in a potential trade seems like the main motivating factors for stepping down. PG13 will be in purple and gold next season. Book it!
LT Mitchell, please don’t take offense, because I don’t mean it this way, but, do you think Bird is such a shrinking violet that the prospect of losing PG is causing him to cut and run? Didn’t he step away from the top post at least once before?
He’s like what, 58? Maybe he has the good sense to want to downsize his duties.
Also, I suspect the Magic/Bird “bromance”, as you put it, is greatly overstated. It might be a bit one sided; if anything, it’s magic who has the man-crush here.
A Horse With No Name says
I know we all live in a laker-centric universe here, but jeez lieutenant, maybe Bird is tired, doesn’t want to do it anymore, or is considering greener (not Celtic green) pastures such as Orlando. The specter of dealing with the Magic led purple and gold never bothered the cold-blooded hick from French Lick before . . . don’t think he’s worried about it now.
Just a quick ps about Larry Legend: he’s the only person to win league MVP, Coach of the Year, and Executive of the Year. He’s 60, and he did step away from the Pacers top job once before. Though I detest the Celtics, I like to be objective about things to the extent possible. Larrys the real deal.
Clay Bertrand says
Larry has even publicly opined that he, as a abnormally tall man, likely will not live as long as a average sized person. He has spoken openly about the health issues that can ail big guys. Larry, to me, seems like he has almost always been TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT regarding his positions coaching and as an FO guy.
IMO, Bird is stepping away MOSTLY for personal reasons. I DO also think that it could, to a much lesser degree, be a sort of natural departure/transition point with the crossroads the Pacers may find themselves at this Summer. He has sounded weary this season and has spoken in very frank terms. The kind of tone you speak with when you are no longer keeping everything close to the vest and you are ready to walk away from the job.
Interesting that as Bird walks wearily away from his active FO role, Magic at the same age is JUST getting started.
Tar Baby says
Deng is not an issue. The only thing bad about his contract is the fourth year….the Lakers don’t HAVE to move it to create space right now. If they do, they’ll get railed, as they would likely have to include either Ingram or Russell to get somebody to take Deng’s contract.
Furthermore, the Lakers have cap space and flexibility even with his contract…they don’t HAVE to move him to sign a max FA (assuming the even get a chance to sign one).
Finally, they don’t have too many other options at the #3, especially if Nick Young exercises his option or stays at the #2.
Bottom line: sit on Deng for one more season….he will be much easier to move with only two years left and his contract could help make numbers match in a mega-star trade.