The Los Angeles Lakers have finally ended the Luol Deng saga, allowing both parties to move on in their respective directions and not have to deal with the media coverage and speculation. The two sides agreed to a buyout where the 33-year-old small forward would give the Los Angeles Lakers $7.5 of his remaining $36.3 million back, meaning he will still collect $29.3 million. $14.3 million of that will come this season, but the remaining $15ish million will be stretched out over three seasons starting in during the 2019-2020 season.
Deng signed a four-year $72 million contract with the Lakers during the summer of 2016. But, alongside Timofey Mozgov, the deal will go down as one of, if not the worst free agent deal, in franchise history. He made $17.2 million last season while playing in just 13 minutes. 13. That is $1.32 million for every minute he laced up on the court. And it wasn’t because of injury that he was limited. It was because of ability. He’s washed, way past his prime, and would have taken minutes away from the younger players the Lakers wanted to develop.
According to Bleacher Report’s Eric Pincus, if the Laker front office decided to do this before September 1st, they would have been able to use the waive and stretch provision on the $29.3 million over five years ($5.9 million per year), to open up more cap space in the short term. But, with doing it after the September deadline, they are on the hook for $14.3 million this season, and, as mentioned before, the remaining $15 million will be spread out over three seasons starting next year.
And staying on the hook for $14.3 million this season is not a big deal anyway because the Lakers were already slightly over the cap. Plus, they have the team they are satisfied with, so there was nothing else to add, nor was there anyone else available to add.
According to Spotrac, they will have around $62.2 million in active payroll next season and add in the $4.9 million of Deng’s dead money (via the stretch provision), the Lakers would still have around $38 million available to spend, which is more than enough to go after one of the big fish that will be available next summer. Everyone knows that LA has been eyeing 2019 because it is supposed to be (arguably) the greatest free agency market ever, and it couldn’t have come at a better time because they need to add another star alongside LeBron James. And now the Lakers would not have to attach any of their young assets to Deng just to move him.
There will be guys like Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson, Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker, Jimmy Butler, and DeMarcus Cousins among the elite names. And the next tier down will have quality guys like Al Horford, Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, Tobias Harris, Paul Milsap (team option), and DeAndre Jordan. If they can’t get one of the top-tier guys, they could always split the $38 million on two guys from the next tier. Whether it would be enough to beat the Warriors would remain to be seen, but it wouldn’t be a bad fallback plan.
But all eyes will turn to Kevin Durant first, as he will be considered the best player on the market (to most). Pairing him and LeBron James would undisputedly make the Lakers the NBA favorites, especially when you add in the depth of the talented youth Los Angeles has drafted over the years. However, it’s highly unlikely that Durant would come to the Lakers if he does end up leaving Golden State. He does not want to be in James’ shadows anymore but rather eclipse him; so why would he help his adversary win more?
Thompson is a natural choice to go with because of his connection to the franchise. He is from Orange County, and his father played for the Lakers back in the 1980’s and is still part of the Laker family by doing their play-by-play on radio for ESPN LA 710.
And Leonard may be considered the favorite because of all the reports that came out this summer about him eyeing Los Angeles. He is from Riverside, which is near LA county so it would be a bit of a homecoming. And for the Lakers, Leonard would be the best fit. Not only would he be the youngest from all the available guys (27 years of age), but he is also the best two-way player in the game, the best defender, a terrific shooter, and evolving as an elite playmaker. He would excel playing off LeBron James, and vice versa.
Waiting will be the hardest part of this entire process, but the Lakers have put themselves in a terrific position to strike and acquire a free agent without giving anything up. Yet another impressive move from a rookie front office that impresses with almost every move.
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