The Los Angeles Lakers have asked the NBA to remove Luol Deng's remaining salary from their future accounting because of what they label a career-ending injury for the veteran swingman, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium.
Deng agreed to a buyout with the Lakers in September 2018. Los Angeles used the stretch provision, so he counts for $5 million annually in dead money through the 2021-22 season. Deng retired in October 2019.
Deng made 22 appearances for the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2018-19, so it remains to be seen how successful the Lakers' gambit will be. An Achilles injury curtailed his Timberwolves tenure, but the fact he suited up for the team at all would seemingly undercut Los Angeles' position.
This is one of those situations where it doesn't hurt to at least ask, though.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put a strain on the NBA's finances, and even marquee franchises such as the Lakers aren't immune.
Paying Anthony Davis and LeBron James makes it difficult to fill out the roster, and the process becomes harder when the salary cap could potentially remain flat. The Athletic's David Aldridge and John Hollinger reported in June that cap could come in at $109 million with a $123 million luxury tax line.
Clearing space to spend $5 million would provide general manager Rob Pelinka with some flexibility to keep the team's free agents when factoring in Davis' likely return.
Eric Pincus @EricPincus
I don't know what the medical records show and if the NBA agrees with the Lakers opinion, but taking off Deng could help the Lakers pay to keep KCP and Rondo, while allowing them to use their larger mid-level exception. I covered that issue in the stream pinned to my feed... https://t.co/Q3H7KVZVsT
More importantly, the Lakers could be heading into the 2021 offseason with both Davis and James eligible for free agency. Maybe Pelinka is hoping to land a third star from what's shaping up to be a talent-rich free-agent class.
Signing that third star would obviously require more than $5 million, but Pelinka has purposefully set it up so that the team won't have a lot of money committed at that point. Remove the Deng buyout and L.A. could get creative in a number of different ways.