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NBA

The Lakers release Deng

Luol Deng is no longer receiving payments for the contract he signed with the Lakers in 2016. The forward, who played just 57 games, pocketed 72 million dollars.

Update:
The Lakers release Deng

Luol Deng’s professional relationship with the Lakers has finally come to an end. It was about time too, some felt. The former NBA forward retired in 2019, but continued being paid his salary due to the small print in the contract he signed with the franchise in 2016. Deng’s contractual arrangement was an example one of the many excesses of what was a dark era for the Lakers, between 2014 and 2020, with the team’s continued absent from the playoffs - the complete opposite of what the franchise represents historically. A run of dire seasons and a situation which was only partially put right after LeBron James’ arrival in 2018 and finally put behind them with the championship ring in 2020. This year, the team has failed to make the playoffs again - with a squad which is much better than the one they had back then.

Luol Deng forged his reputation during his time at Tom Thibodeau’s Chicago Bulls. That team, which featured Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah, among others, reached the Eastern Conference final in 2011. But success was short-lived - Rose, that season’s MVP descended into a downward spiral of constant injuries which curtailed the Bulls run of results. Deng was esteemed for his strong work ethic - committed and dedicated shooter and solid defender. Thibodeau, a coach who rarely sought to use his bench, used him continuously. So much so that, Deng topped the board for minutes on-court in 2012 and 2013, years in which he also made the All Star team.

Lakers left to rue Deng’s contract

But with the Lakers, he was light years from his best level. Deng signed his last major contract in 2016 - not long before Magic Johnson took on the role of president of basketball operations - a post he held for three years before leaving via the back door. Left without Jeannie Buss’ support and with Rob Pelinka intent on bringing in Anthony Davis, Magic tied Deng to a four-year deal worth 72 million dollars - a huge figure even during a time when salaries were rising and with the 2017 Collective Bargaining Agreement just around the corner, but with revenue from the 2014 television rights contract, which gave the NBA 24.000 million over nine years, a colossal figure. Deng’s contract cost the Lakers dear, they have been obliged to continue paying it... until now.

Deng’s case isn’t quite the same as those of other players, such as Chris Bosh or Kevin Garnett. Bosh for instance, retired early due to health problems but continued to receive his salary and in 2018-19, without playing a single minute, was the top earner with the Heat, on 25 million dollars. Garnett meanwhile, spent 21 seasons in the world’s best basketball league and had a year left to run on his contract with the Timberwolves. He decided to call time on his spectacular career - but was paid for the final year. As for Deng, the Lakers tried to not pay him two years ago, but the NBA rejected their request to remove him from their salary cap. To make it easier on their finances, Los Angeles spread out Deng’s payments over two years and have just completed the final payment. Deng has earned 5 million dollars in each of the last three seasons - a salary which is only behind those of LeBron, Davis, Westbrook and Horton-Tucker - and the same as Kendrick Nunn’s. Some feel it is akin to fraud. It’s a millstone which the Lakers are finally free from. With the current crisis, they are hardly in the mood to celebrate but it’s one less thing to worry about.

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