The NBA has a problem. It’s a problem that’s been trending upwards and will continue to continue to trend upwards unless something is done. It’s a problem where, by the end of the year, as many as 15 to 20 future Hall of Famers will be in the NBA. The best players in the world will be there. And that is not in the best interests of the league.
In the land of the free and the home of the brave, the NBA has become a league where a player’s worth is judged by how much they make for their team. This “market value” has created an environment where the NBA is filled with players that simply can’t stay healthy for an entire season. Not only are there injuries after injuries, but the rules of the league have also become more stringent over the years.It’s been nearly three years since the Los Angeles Lakers contracted Luol Deng, and nearly four years since he last donned a purple and gold jersey. The two-time NBA star is still with the Lakers, and for another year. And not only that: Deng earned more money for Los Angeles in the 2020-21 NBA season than all but five other Lakers players.
After his second season with the Miami Heat, where he averaged 12.3 points and six rebounds per game, Deng signed a four-year, $72 million contract with the Lakers in July 2016, making him the team’s highest-paid player.
With Kobe Bryant gone after the 2015-16 season, Los Angeles looked to add some scoring and perhaps veteran leadership to their young team. But even though Deng was only 31 at the time, his best years were clearly behind him, as he had already shown signs of slowing down during his two seasons in South Beach.
That’s not to say he was a bad player, but $72 million seems a bit excessive. Of course, this summer the Lakers also signed Timofey Mozgov, who averaged 6.3 points and 4.4 rebounds in 2015-16 with the Cleveland Cavaliers, to a four-year, $64 million contract. So clearly things were not going well in Hollywood.
Deng started the 2016-17 season in the Lakers’ starting lineup, but he averaged just 7.6 points and 5.3 rebounds in 56 appearances. Just before midseason, Luke Walton benched him and started rookie Brandon Ingram, who Los Angeles selected second in the draft of 16. Deng then missed the final 22 games of the year entirely, as Walton wanted to give the younger members of the team more playing time.
Deng returned to the Lakers’ lineup the following season, but only because the newly acquired Kentavius Caldwell-Pope had served a two-game suspension. It was the only game Deng played this season, and he and Walton later agreed that he didn’t even need to be on the bench to play a few minutes. In case you’re wondering: Deng scored two points in his only appearance of the 2017-18 season, playing 13 minutes in a 108-92 loss against the Clippers.
On 1. September 2018, the Lakers waived Deng and used the extension clause that allowed him to play elsewhere and give themselves some short-term cap space that they hoped to use in the 2019 offseason to find free agents. The deal will spread the final $15 million of Deng’s contract over three seasons, leaving $5 million in dead money on the books in 2019-20, 2020-21 and 2021-22.
Of course, they still paid him over $14.3 million in 2018-19, and Deng got another $2.4 million from the Minnesota Timberwolves, with whom he played 22 games that season before ending his career. Last year, the Lakers tried to get dead money off their balance sheet by claiming an exception for career-ending injuries. But because Deng played in Minnesota after leaving Los Angeles, the NBA denied the request.
Luol Deng during the Lakers vs Jazz game in October 2016. Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images
Because the $15 million was split evenly over three seasons, the Lakers paid Deng $5 million in the 2020-21 season, more than any other player on their roster. Here’s what LA’s crucial numbers looked like this season.
- LeBron James: $39,219,566
- Anthony Davis: $32,742,000
- Dennis Schroder: $16,000,000
- Kentavius Caldwell-Pope: $12,073,020
- Montrezl Harrell: $9,258,000
- Luol Deng: $5,000,000 (in the middle)
- Wesley Matthews: $3,623,000
- Kyle Kuzma: $3,562,178
- Alex Caruso: $2,750,000
- Mark Gasol: $2,564,753
- Quinn Cook: $1,797,183 (dead cap).
- Alfonso McKinney: $1,762,796
- Jared Dudley: $1,620,564
- Markieff Morris: $1,620,564
- Dion Waiters: $1,620,564 (cap hit)
- Languages Horton-Tucker: $1,517,981
- Jordan Bell: $580,062 (dead cap)
- Andre Drummond: $554,988
- Ben McLemore: $455,090
- Damian Jones: $237,966 (limit held – 10-day contracts)
In total, Deng is 3.65% of the Lakers’ salary cap in 2020-21, and as mentioned, he will receive the same five million in 2021-22.
stats are from Basketball Reference, contract information from Spotrac.
COMPARED TO: Shaquille O’Neal was willing to give up hundreds of thousands of dollars with the Lakers to fight Dennis Rodman
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