Luol Deng signed a 4-year, $72 million contract at the tender age of 31 to a rebuilding Lakers team simply because they paid him the most money in what was the best time to be a free agent, July 1, 2016.
Fast forward 16 months, and things are quite different, but there are some things that are very much the same. The Lakers still are not a contender to nobody’s surprise, except maybe LaVar Ball’s. Sure, the Lakers have Lonzo Ball leading the charge now, something that was not the case last July, but the team also has Corey Brewer, Kyle Kuzma, and Josh Hart, three guys stealing Deng’s thunder and his minutes.
Deng has not played since the team’s season opener and is now requesting a departure from the Lakers. It will be difficult for Los Angeles to deal a 32-year old player making $18 million annually for the next three seasons, so the likeliest solution is a buyout, where Deng will then be allowed to sign with any team he wishes.
It’s hard to complain when you are making all that money, but when you aren’t competing for a championship, it’s a little more understandable. This is not just a minutes thing with Deng, this is a contending thing. Who is a team that needs a forward that can defend? Look no further than the Houston Rockets.
Trevor Ariza stumbled early in the year and Luc Mbah a Moute’s sore knee will need some reinforcements at some point this season. With the team’s extra roster spot, could Deng be the man to fill in the final piece?
Deng is a defense-first player, a type of guy the Rockets can’t get enough of. He’s 6-foot-9, which is taller than most of the Rockets’ wings, and that would add a bit of size to a second unit that could use a little more height. Deng is a player looking to win now. Although he did not have many fond memories with the Lakers last season, he was able to start 14 games in a deep playoff run with the Miami Heat just two seasons ago.
Deng dropped 21 points on the road to clinch an elimination game for the Heat against the Hornets. Miami would then go on to win Game 7 and the series. Deng still has some stuff left in the tank from what it looks like, and that’s why he received that illustrious contract last offseason and is seeking a buyout now. The dude just wants to win.
Houston is sitting at 8-3 right now, tied for tops in the west. It’s safe to say Houston will be in a position to contend all season long. Daryl Morey signed Isaiah Canaan to fill up the final roster spot earlier in the season only to release him days later so the team can maintain roster flexibility and hold out for a bigger difference maker than Canaan. Deng might be the difference maker the Rockets need to complete the puzzle.
His cons are that he only shot 30 percent from deep last year, and that might be the reason why he is not a fit for the offense. But Deng would have so many polished shooters around him that it would not be his primary goal to score from beyond. His job would be to defend any guy, 1-5, and he would be good at it.
If Deng clears waivers and becomes a free agent via buyout, the Rockets could come calling. If they are the ones Deng decides to answer for, Houston could be the deepest, most versatile team to challenge the Warriors for NBA supremacy.