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NBA free agency: Timofey Mozgov’s sold on Luke Walton’s promise of a significant role

first_imgThe giddiness sounded clear, even through Timofey Mozgov’s thick Russian accent. The reasons seemed plenty. Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak contacted Mozgov’s representatives a minute after the free agency period began last week. The Lakers soon presented to Mozgov a four-year, $64 million offer, an enormous contract that both illustrated a mix of the team’s dire needs at center and a spiking salary cap. Mozgov maintained those elements alone, however, did not convince him to wear a purple and gold uniform soon. Nor did those factors prompt him to sound the most excited as he spoke Monday on the phone. Instead, Mozgov traced back to a five-minute conversation he had with Lakers coach Luke Walton shortly after free agency began that leaves Mozgov excited. “He said I’m going to play a lot,” Mozgov told Southern California News Group. “I really like it. The only thing in the world I want to do is be with my family and play basketball. Those are the two things that are most important for me.” “He said I’m going to play a lot. I really like it,” Mozgov said. “He said I’m going to be a big part of the team on the offensive and defensive end.” That hardly fit Mozgov’s role last season with the Cavaliers.While LeBron James and Kyrie Irving led Cleveland to an NBA championship in seven games over the Golden State Warriors, Mozgov played a combined 25 minutes through all of those contests. He also only logged 17.5 minutes during the regular season amid year-long complications with his right knee after having surgery last summer. That contributed to Mozgov playing a limited role after averaging a more stellar 10.6 points on 59 percent shooting and 6.9 rebounds in the 2014-15 campaign with Cleveland. The six-year NBA veteran has career averages of 6.9 points on a 53.9 percent clip and 5.0 rebounds per game. “It was not easy. I think the one thing in my mind that I always say to myself, ‘Whatever is going on, good or bad, you have to take it as an experience for the rest of your life,’” Mozgov said. “When you don’t play, you have to stay ready, especially in a playoff situation. When coach pulls you in the game, you have no right to complain to the guys.”So even if he argued the Cavaliers were the “best team ever made (on) the planet” on the same day Kevin Durant committed to the Warriors, Mozgov found a larger role on a rebuilding team more enticing than having a marginal influence on a championship contending team.“I was proud to be a part of the team, but I want to play,” Mozgov said. “It was a hard decision. Of course you want to stay on a team that you know will be one of the teams that fights for a championship. But in my personal opinion, I have to take a bigger step and move forward.” Much of that could depend on Mozgov’s on health, though he stressed he does not need to have any offseason procedures this summer. “I’m perfect, finally,” Mozgov said. “It took me longer than I thought. But I’m perfect.” Mozgov sounded less certain on how quickly the Lakers’ young roster will develop. “I’m not going to lie to you; I haven’t seen them play in a lot of games,” Mozgov said. “I’m sure they’re talented. But sometimes it takes one season or two seasons to understand yourself and what you have to do to be where you want to be. But I’m sure they’re all talented. They just have to work every day. I think we’re going to be good.” Or how much the 29-year-old Mozgov can elevate the Lakers with dependable rim protection, a pick-and-roll option for D’Angelo Russell and possible mentorship. “You have to step on the court and improve the game with energy or defense or whatever you can do on the court. It’s not easy to do. I don’t think everybody can do it,” Mozgov said. “I’m not the best veteran in the world. But I know what’s going on with basketball. So hopefully that helps the other guys.”Instead, Mozgov sounded secure on two other things.One, Mozgov strongly dismissed whether Blake Griffin’s well-documented dunk over him six years ago would add extra spice to the Lakers-Clippers matchups.“Everybody talks about that moment, but I moved forward,” Mozgov said. “You take experience from that. You never want that to happen again. But you have to move forward.”Second, Mozgov continuously focused on his conversation with Walton that he called “really really good.” So good that Mozgov promised something about Walton after he delivered his own promise about playing time.“I truly believe he’s going to be a great coach,” Mozgov said of Walton. “I’m looking forward toward working with him.” Mozgov will officially check off both boxes once he signs his contract when the NBA moratorium ends on Thursday. He has a coach who has assured him of a starting center position after averaging only 6.3 points on 56.6 percent shooting and 4.4 rebounds last season with the Cleveland Cavaliers. The 7-foot-1 Russian center also secured a lucrative contract to support his family, causing him to joke he will spend plenty of time with them this summer in Los Angeles “sitting on the beach and drinking a piña colada.”Mozgov sounded aware of the criticism surrounding his contract. Then he quickly laughed it off for a few reasons. One, he argued that contract partly stemmed from the NBA’s new television deal with ABC/ESPN and Turner through 2025 that is worth $2.67 billion per year. Two, the Lakers willingly paid Mozgov that money since they needed a center after parting ways with Roy Hibbert, who posted a career-low in points (5.9) and anchoring a defense that ranked 27th in points allowed (106.8).“I can’t lie to you; I like it,” Mozgov said, chuckling. “This is the way the NBA is doing business. Players are happy with the money going up. But it’s not just about the players getting the money. The owners and the players association are getting money. Everybody’s happy.”So with his representatives advising him to stay prepared in case a team approaches him with an immediate offer, it did not take long for Mozgov to agree to a deal with the Lakers nearly as quickly as Kobe Bryant shooting the ball. Money aside, Mozgov waxed nostalgia about primarily watching the Chicago Bulls and Lakers in his native Russia. Mozgov then circled back to Walton again. center_img Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Errorlast_img read more