Veteran small forward Luol Deng has only appeared in one game this season for the Los Angeles Lakers and been a steady member of the inactive list, even after forward Larry Nance Jr. broke a bone in his left hand last week.
The Lakers started rookie sensation Kyle Kuzma over Deng after news hit that Nance Jr. would be sidelined for a while, the latest chapter in Deng’s demise in LA since he signed that lucrative four-year, $72 million free agent deal in the summer of 2016.
It’s clear Deng won’t be seeing the floor much this season since the Lakers are prioritizing the development of their younger players. The 32-year-old swingman has been in the league for 13 years and understands better than anyone the business side of the NBA.
According to ESPN, Deng’s camp and the Lakers are collaborating to find a suitable trade or buyout agreement for the former All-Star.
“Deng said he and his agent, Jeff Austin from Octagon sports, have been working with the Lakers to find a resolution to the situation — either via trade or buyout — but he understands it may take weeks, months or even years to settle as he has two years and $26 million remaining on his contract after this year. A Lakers source confirmed that the team has met with Deng’s representatives to find a solution — via trade or buyout — that would allow him the opportunity to play more.”
Deng has been a class act throughout his professional career and says he won’t let his situation become a distraction for the young Lakers.
The 6-foot-9 humble, well-spoken Deng is aware that his exit from LA will be a long, grueling process.
“It definitely hurts,” Deng told ESPN Monday after the Lakers practiced. “But the only answer for me now is to prove myself away from LA. I’m not asked to play, I’m not in the rotation so I can’t prove myself here. Most of these young guys don’t understand the business of basketball, so if I come in here and I’m angry every day, I’m taking something away from them. I have to be smiling, I have to be in the best mood I can be in, because they’re living their dream of being an NBA player.
“But yeah you just never know. It could be a month, it could be a week, it could be three months. I don’t want something to happen and I’m called upon but my shape holds me back. The challenge is to challenge yourself to be in better shape than if I was playing. Then if I fall short I’m still in good shape.
“I’m just being patient. Throughout my career I’ve never really been a guy who created drama or wanted to deal with drama. At the end of the day I know what it is, I know I can play the game. But it’s the situation that I came into.”