According to an ESPN report, LA Lakers center Timofey Mozgov is set to sit out the remainder of the 2016-17 season despite being healthy.
The move would hardly come as a shock, as Mozgov has been inactive for the Lakers' recent games, and 19-year-old rookie center Ivica Zubac has taken over the starting spot as the season winds down.
In Denver on Monday night, Zubac scored a career-high 25 points and became the first Lakers' teenager ever to score 25 or more points and record a double double. So, a report stating Mozgov does not expect to play the remainder of the season on the following day fits in line with general expectations of a team at the bottom of the Western Conference.
From a development standpoint, Zubac and Tarik Black playing the bulk of the minutes at center for the remainder of the season was already the assumption. Add in that Lakers coach Luke Walton prefers to go with small lineups late in games and use either Julius Randle or Larry Nance Jr. at center in those lineups, and Mozgov's role for the final month of the season already expected to be negligible.
The optics, however, do not look good, as Mozgov is on a four-year contract worth $64 million and is LA's second-highest paid player at $16 million per year. If Zubac continues to blossom, Mozgov could quickly lose his spot and become an expensive contract sitting on the bench for the bulk of the 2017-18 season.
Add in that Luol Deng is the Lakers' highest paid player at $18 million per year on a four-year contract worth $72 million and that the veteran forward is in a simmilar situation to Mozgov. Deng is a regular inactive despite being healthy, and the 31-year-old has not featured for the Lakers in any of their previous seven contests. Deng playing any role for the final 15 games of the season is tough to imagine.
If rookie Brandon Ingram continues to develop and gains strength over the summer, the move to start Ingram for the duration of his sophomore season would seem natural. Ingram is currently the starter and expects to retain the role for the remainder of the season.
With Deng and Mozgov, who are both known for being good teammates and locker room guys, the Lakers have two high salary players that don't appear to fit into the team's long term plans, though both are on long-term contracts. Both Mozgov and Deng have three years on their contracts after the current season expires, and both demand salaries that are difficult to trade away.
Entering the summer of 2017, Mozgov and Deng's contracts don't help the Lakers' free agency situation, and the latest ESPN report only further serves as a reminder that former Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak left the Lakers with two players that don't seem to fit into the current redevelopment plan and also take up a fair bit of salary cap space.