With all of the young talent that the Los Angeles Lakers have on their team, the future looks bright in the city of angels. However, for that future to happen quicker, the Lakers need to move two players off of their team that make an unexplainable amount of money. Those two players are Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng, and these were the signings that ultimately led to the firing of Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss.
Last summer, the Lakers did the unthinkable, used all of their available cap space for two players that simply are not worth that kind of money for the stats they put up.
In the first year of his contract, Mozgov averaged 7.4 points and 4.9 rebounds per game while sitting out for about 30 games while the Lakers gave way to their promising young players. This means that the Lakers will be stuck with Mozgov for 3 more years and will cost them about $16 million per year against the cap.
Not only did Kupchak and company mess up on this player, they also paid a hefty price for getting Luol Deng, who looked worse on the court than Mozgov.
Deng looked out of sorts last year, putting up some career low numbers across the board last year. He averaged a career low 7.6 points and 1.3 assists per game, while also sitting out games like Mozgov to let Brandon Ingram and David Nwaba to play over him. Not only did his points go down, but he also shot the lowest field-goal percent in his entire career at 43.6%. Deng’s inefficiency will cost the Lakers $18 million per year against the cap, which is horrendous.
With all that being said, those two players will combine to cost the Lakers $34 million a year when it’s clear they are not a part of the present or the future. The projected salary cap for each NBA team will be around $101 million next year, so that is about 34% of their cap space already being used to players that they do not want. So, this is the tricky part, how can the Lakers get rid of them when their trade value is so low due to poor play and horrible contracts?
The urgency behind clearing the cap space is simple, Paul George is reportedly looking to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers during the summer of 2018 because that is when he is available to opt out of his contract. The Lakers currently would be at $62 million in owed money to players such as Mozgov, Ingram, Russell, Deng and Clarkson. Paul George would demand the max, and with the cap at $103 million, the Lakers would not be able to offer the max contract at another player. This means that they would not be able to build a winner around George, so it would decrease his chances of becoming a Laker drastically. Other potential free agents during that same year include DeMarcus Cousins, Blake Griffin and Russell Westbrook. If the Lakers were able to clear up the contracts owed to Mozgov and Deng, they’d be able to offer the max contract to any one of those players, getting Paul George the help he would need to win a ring.
It will be almost impossible to package both players in the same deal. However, the Lakers do have some valuable assets going forward they would be willing to give up if it meant they’d get George and another superstar to come to L.A. Now, let us take a look at some potential trade partners that would possibly be willing to take on the contracts of these two players.
The Brooklyn Nets would be an easy target for the Lakers to try and get a deal done with them. The Nets have the cap space to take on these horrendous contracts. What the Nets do not have though is valuable assets going forward due to the very bad trade they made with the Boston Celtics in which they lost multiple picks. The Lakers do have some very nice young pieces that the Nets would be looking to get, so they would be more inclined to make this trade happen. Potential trade pieces that could be involved would be Jordan Clarkson, Mozgov and our first pick in the 2019 NBA draft while the Lakers take back cash considerations. This would be a move to just clear the cap space for the Lakers going forward, and while losing Clarkson and the future first round pick would hurt the Lakers a bit, it won’t hurt as much as keeping Mozgov’s contract on the books and signing players that would help us contend.
The Sacramento Kings would be a viable option to unload Luol Deng’s contract. The Kings are in no hurry to get better since they traded away DeMarcus Cousins at the all-star break and are now focused on rebuilding the correct way. That means they are looking to take on future assets while taking on a player’s contract. Since the Kings will likely be taking a small forward with one of their picks in the top 10 of the NBA draft, Deng could serve as a mentor to him. Deng lost his mentor role on the Lakers the minute Corey Brewer became a Laker, and it was evident with all the young players on the Lakers speaking highly of Brewer’s work ethic. Deng also fits into the mold of what Dave Joerger likes to have in a small forward vet, since Deng is similar to what Joerger had in Memphis with Matt Barnes and Vince Carter. A potential trade the Kings might take would likely revolve around Deng, Larry Nance Jr. and the 28th pick in the 2017 NBA draft. Larry Nance Jr. would be a decent back-up to Skal Labissiere next year for the Kings and would easily become a crowd favorite with his amazing dunks. Again, all the Lakers would want in return would be cash considerations.
The last team that we will take a look at are the Orlando Magic. The Magic are in the same rebuilding process that the Kings and Nets are in. However, Luol Deng would probably receive the most minutes on this team due to their lack of talent at the small forward position, and since he already has played in Miami, his morale might be a little more upbeat with this scenario. A potential trade scenario with this team is basically the same that was offered to the Sacramento Kings.
Getting any of these trades to happen would be a win for the Lakers by clearing up cap space to eventually sign two max players in the summer of 2018 when we have a realistic shot at getting Paul George. However, the other side to this though would be the Lakers looking foolish for trading away their young assets and Paul George signing somewhere else leaving the Lakers left with trading some of their young assets for nothing. The courtship of Paul George will have a huge impact on the fate of the Lakers, and that fate rests on the Lakers treading with caution on when and how to dispose of both Mozgov and Deng.