It’s been a tough year for Deng, who will make more than $17 million this season yet has played a scant 13 minutes and has one basket on the season. Deng signed a four-year, $72 million contract with the Lakers in 2016 but almost immediately fell out of favor with new Lakers management, putting him in a unique kind of purgatory.
The team doesn’t want the 32-year-old, and they seem unable to trade him and get his salary off the books. So, on the bench he sits while young players take up minutes, and the team tries to look forward to a future that clearly doesn’t include Deng.
The Los Angeles Times‘ Bill Plashke wrote a feature about Deng on Wednesday that chronicled this season of inactivity and just what Deng has been doing while not playing. The veteran swingman was surprisingly honest about his frustrations with it all.
“It sucks,” Deng said. “It’s hard.”
Trying to understand the fallout of what exactly happened has been tough for him as well.
“I’ve never before seen a guy brought over to make a change, but then there was a different change,” Deng said. “I had no idea I wasn’t going to be part of the plan.”
Last February, five days after Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak were dumped and Magic Johnson became basketball boss, Deng played his last meaningful minutes as a Laker. He missed the final 22 games of last season. He made a substitute start on opening night this year, played 13 minutes, scored one basket, and hasn’t played in the 54 games since.
“This is going to be a phase in my career when I look back and wonder, how could this have happened?” Deng said.