WITH the Los Angeles Lakers focused on developing its young players, veteran forward Luol Deng is looking to prove himself elsewhere.
Deng, in the second season of a four-year $72M deal, has been on the inactive list for most of the NBA season so far. And even with starter Larry Nance Jr. injured, the Lakers chose to start rookie Kyle Kuzma over Deng, a move that pushed the two-time All-Star to seek a better opportunity out of LA.
“It definitely hurts. But the only answer for me is to prove myself away from L.A. I’m not asked to play, I’m not in the rotation, so I can’t prove myself here,” Deng told ESPN on Monday after Lakers practice.
Octagon sports management’s Jeff Austin, Deng’s agent, has been in talks with the Lakers to figure out a solution to their predicament, which could be either via buyout or trade. But considering his pricey contract, the 32-year-old forward is staying in game shape as he sees the process could take long for him before he finds a new team.
“It could be a month, it could be a week, it could be three months. I don’t want something to happen and I’m called upon but my shape holds me back,” he said.
After scoring two points in 13 minutes in the season opener, Deng hasn’t played in the last nine games. He started in 49 of his 56 games in his first season with the Lakers but struggled with injuries and ended up with career-lows in points (7.6) and shooting (38.7%).
Lakers coach Luke Walton was upfront with him in his role for this young squad as the locker-room leader and a veteran presence who could step up once the opportunity arises. But Deng has found it difficult to adjust, especially since he was raring to bounce back after a poor season.
“You spend the whole summer like, trying to come back for the city, for the team, to prove that it was just one bad year. But the opportunity's not there," said Deng, who insisted he’s not looking to disrupt the Lakers progress but just an opportunity to show his worth.
“I’m just being patient. Throughout my career I've never really been a guy who created drama or wanted to deal with drama. At the end of the day I know what it is, I know I can play the game. But it's the situation that I came into,” he added.