The Los Angeles Lakers announced veterans Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov will not play in the final 15 games of the regular season on Wednesday, according to ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelburne. The team signed both Deng and Mozgov to a combined $136 million over four years as their top free agent acquisitions over the summer.
Shutting down two healthy veterans reaffirms the team is tanking for the remainder of an already lost season.
Los Angeles also benched its talented starting point guard D’Angelo Russell in favor of Jordan Clarkson before its 28-point loss to Denver on Tuesday. It was Russell’s first game off the bench this season, and head coach Luke Walton made the switch to evaluate how each player would respond in their new roles, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The Lakers have also moved starting forward Nick Young to the pine in favor of D-League call-up David Nwaba, who signed his second 10-day contract with the team on Monday. He is averaging three points and has yet to make more than one field goal in a game.
You can see the results on the scoreboard.
The Lakers (20-47) have lost 10 of their last 11 games with an average margin of defeat of 13 points during that stretch. Their only victory came against a Phoenix Suns team that pummeled them by 36 points a few games before, and only three of those losses were at the hands of teams competing for playoff position.
Now, by sitting their veterans, the Lakers have clearly conceded the rest of the season.
But it was just a couple years ago that ownership frowned upon the idea.
In a Dec. 2014 interview with ESPN.com, both Jeanie and Jim Buss shot down the notion that the Lakers would ever intentionally throw games. Jim Buss is no longer with the team after Jeanie hired Magic Johnson as president of basketball operations.
But it was Jeanie who called tanking “unforgivable,” when asked about their draft pick in 2015.
“The teams that use tanking as a strategy are doing damage. If you're in tanking mode, that means you've got young players who you're teaching bad habits to. I think that's unforgivable,” she said. “If you're tanking and you have young players or you keep a short roster, you're playing guys out of their position or too many minutes, you're risking injury. It's irresponsible and I don't think it belongs in any league.”
Now, the Lakers fit that bill, and they have incentive to flush the season.
Los Angeles dealt its 2017 first-round pick to the Phoenix Suns (who dealt it to Philadelphia) as part of the Steve Nash trade. If their pick falls outside of the top three, not only do they lose their pick this year, the Lakers convey their 2019 first-rounder to Orlando as part of the Dwight Howard trade.
If they keep their first-rounder this year, though, Philadelphia will get the Lakers’ pick outright in 2018. As for Orlando? They’ll get a pair of second-round picks.
So even though Jeanie Buss may have frowned on tanking a few years ago, no team will benefit more from throwing games this season than the Lakers.
The 2017 NBA Draft is lauded as one of the deepest in recent memory. With a top-three pick, the Lakers could land a talented guard, such as Washington’s Markelle Fultz or UCLA’s Lonzo Ball, or a high-quality forward in Kansas’ Josh Jackson or Duke’s Jayson Tatum.
The Lakers selected Brandon Ingram No. 2 overall last year and drafted Russell second overall in 2015. It’s unclear what direction Johnson would go with his pick this season, but one thing is certain: any pick is better than no pick.
And if Jeanie Buss doesn’t know that, Johnson certainly does.