The Lakers made one of their last big free-agent deals of the off-season, adding another veteran Saturday by agreeing to a four-year, $72-million deal with former All-Star Luol Deng.
Deng, 31, typically does a little bit of everything on the court and gives the Lakers someone to fill the small-forward spot until Brandon Ingram is ready to start.
Deng can also play power forward in a small-ball lineup, creating added appeal in Coach Luke Walton’s vision of the Lakers.
Deng seems to fit into Walton’s desire to add players with character. In fact, Miami Heat President Pat Riley called Deng a “high-character guy” last season.
“He’s a great leader. We love him,” Riley said.
Deng, though, must prove his best years aren’t behind him.
His uptick in production was in step with All-Star Chris Bosh sitting out because of blood clots. Listed at 6 feet 9 and 220 pounds, Deng moved to power forward in Bosh’s place.
He was more than solid for Miami in a first-round playoff series against Charlotte, averaging 19 points and 6.6 rebounds while shooting 51.3% from three-point range. He was a nonfactor in the Eastern Conference semifinals against Toronto, averaging only 7.6 points and shooting 35.8% overall as the Heat lost in seven games.
The Lakers have more than $12 million left to spend toward next season’s payroll after also agreeing to terms with center Timofey Mozgov (four years, $64 million) and guard Jordan Clarkson (four years, $50 million) since free agency began Thursday night.
Deng was down the Lakers’ wish list a bit but they could not attract Nicolas Batum or Kent Bazemore with offers to play small forward for them.
Along those lines, the Lakers were interested in Miami center Hassan Whiteside, though not entirely sure they wanted to commit a maximum salary for him. He ended up re-signing with the Heat after declining to meet with the Lakers.
The Lakers also did not contact Atlanta center Al Horford when free agency began, a slightly surprising development for a team in need of a proven big man. Horford, a four-time All-Star, reached agreement Saturday with Boston on a four-year deal worth a reported $113 million.
So the Lakers move forward with Mozgov, Clarkson and Deng, who was an All-Star for Chicago in 2012 and 2013.
After winning a franchise-low 17 games last season, they appear willing to turn over the team to their youthful core, with a handful of veterans sprinkled into the mix.
Whether it works remains to be seen. Many people are watching, including a fan base that’s witnessed 65 total victories the last three seasons.