LOS ANGELES — Russian center Timofey Mozgov has agreed to a four-year, $64 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers, a person familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity Thursday night because the deal can’t be signed until July 7.
The Lakers moved swiftly in the opening minutes of the NBA’s free agent signing period to use a big portion of their roughly $55 million in cap room on the 7-foot-1 Mozgov, a six-year NBA veteran.
He won a ring with the Cleveland Cavaliers last month despite barely playing in the postseason, averaging 5.8 minutes in 13 appearances. He started 48 games for the Cavs during the regular season after returning from offseason knee surgery, averaging 6.3 points and 4.4 rebounds while making 56.5 percent of his shots.
The Lakers paid an eye-popping price for a soon-to-be 30-year-old center who made $4.95 million last year and has never averaged 11 points or eight rebounds per game in an NBA season.
Yet the deal represents both the inflated realities of the NBA’s increased salary cap and the necessity of overpayment by Los Angeles.
The Lakers aren’t the most attractive free-agent destination in the wake of the worst season in franchise history and Kobe Bryant’s retirement. After going 17-65 last season, they realize they’re unlikely to land Kevin Durant or other top players eager to win championships now.
Instead, they’re hoping to add veteran leaders and role players around their intriguing young core, which includes D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, restricted free agent Jordan Clarkson and No. 2 pick Brandon Ingram.
Mozgov began his NBA career with New York in 2010, but was traded to Denver at midseason. He spent the next four years with the Nuggets, playing under Lakers lead assistant coach Brian Shaw, before a trade to Cleveland in January 2015.
Mozgov averaged a career-best 10.6 points in that abbreviated season with the Cavaliers. He became the first Russian to play in the NBA Finals that summer, giving impressive performances as the Cavs’ starting center.
But he struggled to recapture that excellent form after offseason surgery to remove a cyst from his knee. Heading into his free-agent contract season, Mozgov perhaps pushed too aggressively to return from injury, and Tristan Thompson became the Cavs’ starting center in the postseason.
Mozgov is moving to the town where his last name became an unfortunate verb in November 2010 when the Clippers’ Blake Griffin threw down an astonishing rebound dunk on Mozgov’s head at Staples Center. Ever since, a player who gets dunked on in such an outrageous fashion has been “Mozgoved.”
Mozgov’s arrival with the Lakers certainly means the departure of Roy Hibbert, who averaged a career-low 5.9 points in his only season with the Lakers. Los Angeles had only six players under contract heading into the weekend, although Ingram will sign along with the likely return of three restricted free agents: Clarkson, Tarik Black and Marcelo Huertas.
Mozgov also could be a mentor to Ivica Zubac, the 7-foot Croatian teenager drafted by the Lakers with the 32nd overall pick last week. Zubac wants to play in the NBA next season, and his draft stock apparently slipped because he was unwilling to be stashed in Europe for another year.