Lakers could trade Luol Deng to Timberwolves after Dec. 15

By @saihoops on
Luol Deng
November 23, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) shoots the basketball against Los Angeles Lakers forward Luol Deng (9, left) and forward Larry Nance Jr. (7) during the first half at Oracle Arena. USA TODAY Sports / Kyle Terada

The Minnesota Timberwolves could try to trade for Los Angeles Lakers forward Luol Deng following the expiration of the Dec. 15 trade exception for new contracts, according to several reports.

When Tom Thibodeau took charge of the Minnesota Timberwolves, the young team was expected to make rapid strides towards a playoff berth. However, things haven't panned out the way analysts had projected prior to the season.

For starters, the Timberwolves have begun the season with a 5-11 record and the word on the street is that Thibs is unhappy with the team's young core -- and is willing to part with them in favour of veterans.

Luol Deng to Minnesota? 

According to Bleacher Report’s Ric Bucher, Thibs is growing impatient with his young core and could trade for either Deng or Chicago Bulls forward Taj Gibson in the near future.

 The Lakers can't deal Deng until Dec. 15 when the trade restriction for new contracts expire.

From Bucher's report (per LakersNation): 

"Would the Lakers consider advancing their youth movement and dealing former Bull Luol Deng? Would the Bulls consider parting with Jimmy Butler or Taj Gibson? Where Thibs looks is not certain, nor is who he’d be willing to move. But those in the league who know his hunger to win and win now are convinced he will begin calling around soon, if he hasn’t already."

Deng and Thibodeau enjoyed a lot of success together during their days with the Chicago Bulls. Deng made two All-Star teams in 2012 and 2013, besides making the All-Defensive Second Team in 2012. Deng hasn't been the same player, the elite defender, since he was shipped out of Chicago to Cleveland in early 2014 as part of the Andrew Bynum trade. At the time, Thibs was reportedly unhappy with Chicago's front office.

Thibs can make things happen...

In Minnesota, Thibodeau dons two hats. Besides serving as head coach, Thibodeau is the team's president of basketball operations. Therefore, he has the power to make trades without seeking the approval of ownership. 

Could Deng and Gibson be playing for Thibs come 2017? While Gibson, an unrestricted free agent next summer, could be easier to acquire, the Timberwolves could find it difficult to absorb Deng's contract onto their payroll. They might be forced to part with a combination of Ricky Rubio and Shabazz Muhammad for the salaries to match. 

Deng signed a four-year, US$72 million (AU$96.8 million) contract with the Lakers during the offseason. The veteran was signed as a mentor to Brandon Ingram, who, at 19, isn't yet ready to start games in the NBA.

But Deng was always expected to be a temporary solution as the team's starting small forward until the wiry-framed Ingram develops the needed strength to bang with other elite players in the league.   

Luol Deng is averaging just 6.6 points and 5.4 rebounds from 17 games thus far. Would the Timberwolves risk parting with young assets for a player well past his prime?

The Lakers would likely be thrilled to get rid of Deng's hefty contract since they are strapped for cap room ahead of the loaded 2017 free agency class. By trading away Deng, they would have enough funds to pursue a max-level free agent next summer.  

Stay tuned for the latest on the Luol Deng situation.