It would seem that the stage is all but set for the Los Angeles Lakers to sign another top-tier free agent in the summer of 2019, as the team reached an agreement to buy out veteran small forward Luol Deng’s contract, according to a new report from ESPN.
“We want to thank Luol for his time with the Lakers,” read a statement from Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka, announcing the 33-year-old Deng’s exit from the team.
“We made this move to further our future salary cap and roster flexibility, as we continue to build this Lakers team according to our current overall vision.”
Per ESPN, the Lakers were originally looking forward to having $25 million of salary cap space to spend on new players ahead of the 2019-20 season. But with Los Angeles buying out the final two years of Deng’s contract, the team will have about $36 million to $38 million of cap space, which could potentially allow them to surround LeBron James with another max contract player in the 2019 offseason.
With Luol Deng now a free agent, sources familiar with the situation told ESPN that the veteran forward will “command interest” from several top NBA teams. It still isn’t clear which specific teams might be interested in Deng, who was picked seventh overall in the 2004 NBA Draft after playing one season for the Duke Blue Devils in college.
OFFICIAL: Lakers Waive Luol Denghttps://t.co/cXx3jyL2FD— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) September 1, 2018
Despite entering free agency in 2016 with a solid reputation as a two-way forward who could score and play defense, Deng failed to make the expected impact with the Lakers after he joined the team on a four-year, $72 million contract. After averaging a career-low 7.6 points in 2016-17, Deng played in only one game for the Lakers in 2017-18 even if he wasn’t dealing with any significant injuries, as he was essentially shut down for almost the entire season. Currently, he has career averages of 15 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, with his best statistical year coming in 2006-07, when he averaged 18.8 points and 7.1 rebounds for the Chicago Bulls, according to Basketball-Reference.
At this point, the Los Angeles Lakers have several different options if they’re looking to sign a max contract star in the summer of 2019. Players such as Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, and Klay Thompson are all expected to headline the 2019 free agent class, and while rumors have swirled regarding the possibility of each of these players joining the Lakers, only Leonard and Butler have been quoted by publications as saying they’d be open to playing for the team once they become eligible to sign as free agents.