Last summer, veteran forward Luol Deng signed a four-year, $74 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers. The deal was highly criticized by the fans and the media as many believed the storied franchise overpaid for the journeyman after failing to secure meetings with the best talent available on the free agent market.
Deng averaged career-low numbers across the board in his first season with the Lakers. The 32-year-old played in only 56 games before being shut down by the coaching staff once it became apparent the playoffs were out of reach.
As a result of his poor performance and all the criticism he had to deal with during the 2016-17 NBA season, Deng knows he’s got to turn things around and seems determined to quiet his critics, via Tania Ganguli of the L.A. Times:
“There’s a bitter taste in my mouth,” Deng said. “I just gotta come back with a chip on my shoulder. This year started to build a fire inside me. I don’t tell people a lot of times because I carry on not being as competitive, but I’ve got a lot of people to shut up next year.”
With Deng taking over for Kobe Bryant as the highest-paid player on the Lakers and being under contract for another three years, the 32-year-old will have a chance to redeem himself next season. Brandon Ingram may be the future of the small forward position in Los Angeles, but Deng will be looked at to shoulder the load while the fellow Duke product develops over the next few years.
Head coach Luke Walton and company will likely insert Deng back into the rotation next season with the expectation of the veteran playing heavy minutes. Ingram could even end up shifting over to shooting guard with Deng getting the starting nod at the three spot unless drastic changes are made in the offseason.
Deng averaged 7.6 points and 5.3 rebounds in 26.5 minutes per game. The journeyman started 49 of the 56 games he played under Walton and shot a career-worst 38.7 percent from the floor.