With Kobe Bryant gone and the team in desperate need of mature leadership, the Los Angeles Lakers are turning to Luol Deng for help on the court and in the locker room.
The Lakers and Deng agreed to a four-year, $72 million contract Saturday, a person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal cannot be signed until July 7.
The 31-year-old Deng averaged 12.3 points and 6.0 rebounds for Miami last season. He has made the playoffs seven times in his career with the Bulls and the Heat and commands immediate respect with his work ethic and ability to relate to teammates.
That’s exactly what Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak sought to help shape an impressionable young roster for first-year coach Luke Walton. Those youngsters went wayward last season while Bryant concluded his farewell tour.
The Lakers finished at 17-65, the worst record in the franchise’s proud history, and were plagued by salacious headlines and speculation over how the young players responded to the old-school leadership from Bryant and former coach Byron Scott.
And the core of the team — D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. — got only younger last month when the Lakers drafted 19-year-old Duke forward Brandon Ingram with the second overall pick.
In Deng, the Lakers get a hard-nosed, defensive forward who can play multiple positions and provide solid offense. He is also known for his diligence in practice.
“I think history tells you that a bunch of young guys on a team is probably not a good thing,” Kupchak said last month. “They look around for leadership and advice from somebody who’s been through this a couple of times, and if there’s nobody to talk to, then they really don’t know how to handle the situation. So I think we will look to add some veteran leadership, and hopefully not only leadership, but guys who can help us win games.”
For the third straight summer, the glitzy Lakers have been on the outside looking in as the biggest names on the free-agent market have taken meetings and agreed to deals. They never got a meeting with Oklahoma City star Kevin Durant while DeMar DeRozan chose to stay in Toronto. It appears Al Horford will go elsewhere, too.
That’s why the Lakers didn’t hesitate to go to a fourth year on the big contract for Deng. He will be entering his 13th season, but has proved durable during his career with the Bulls, Cavaliers and Heat. And he had several other suitors lining up for a crack at him, including Tom Thibodeau, the former Bulls coach now with the Minnesota Timberwolves.