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Lakers remove highly priced FAs Luol Deng, Timofey Mozgov from starting lineup

Luol Deng, Timofey Mozgov, Joakim Noah

Los Angeles Lakers forward Luol Deng (9), from left, of South Sudan, center Timofey Mozgov (20), of Russia, and New York Knicks center Joakim Noah (13) fight for a loose ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Dec. 11, 2016, in Los Angeles.(AP Photo/Gus Ruelas)


The Lakers have pulled their splashy free-agent additions -- Luol Deng (four years, $72 million) and Timofey Mozgov (four years, $64 million) -- from the starting lineup.

Who could have seen that coming?

Oh, right. Practically everybody.

In their 121-107 win over the Knicks tonight, the Lakers started:

  • D’Angelo Russell
  • Lou Williams
  • Brandon Ingram over Deng
  • Julius Randle
  • Tarik Black over Mozgov*

*Black had been starting at power forward next to Mozgov with Randle battling pneumonia, but Randle is Los Angeles’ primary starting power forward. Black supplanted Mozgov at center tonight.

It’s not just that Deng and Mozgov are underperforming relative to their salaries -- though it is that. It’s that those two veterans aren’t even meeting the modest standard of making the Lakers respectable. Los Angeles entered tonight 17-36 and had lost 10 of 12.

The 31-year-old Deng and 30-year-old Mozgov have no upside. At this point, it’s about preparing for the future, and that means more playing time for younger players. Mozgov didn’t even get off the bench, as rookie Ivica Zubac played behind Black.

The Lakers’ future looks reasonably bright with a young core featuring Russell, Randle, Ingram, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr. and Zubac. With the exception of Clarkson, those players are all still on low-paying rookie-scale contracts.

Los Angeles can pitch free agents on joining those youngsters just as they blossom manage an unnecessarily murky future with Deng and Mozgov occupying significant cap space over the next three years.