With the Lakers poised to have slightly over $60 million in cap space burning a hole in their pocket, they have several paths they can take to try to reshape their roster. With all that cap space, they have been linked to nearly every top FA in some way shape for form, even if only from the standpoint they would be “interested” in signing him.
One name where there was supposedly mutual interest, though, was with Toronto Raptors shooting guard DeMar DeRozan. Whispers around the league were that the Compton native and former USC Trojan would love to play for the franchise while it was long believed the Lakers would be willing to shell out the max in order to lure DeRozan back to his native Los Angeles. The thought was that the Lakers need a huge infusion of talent and DeRozan offered a player who could step into the rotation spot Kobe Bryant vacated after retiring.
Well, it seems like that position has changed, and from both sides.
— Noah Coslov (@NoahCoslov) May 29, 2016
Of course, the Lakers’ side is only one piece of the puzzle. I would imagine that, if DeRozan really showed interest in playing for the Lakers, the two sides would meet in free agency and see if they could work out a deal. DeRozan, after all, is a talented player — with a questionable fit, but more on that in a minute — and considering the Lakers only won 17 games last season, they aren’t in a position to simply rebuff the interest of talented players.
But, per Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star, it does not seem like DeRozan has that interest:
“I grew up in L.A.,” said DeRozan, who averaged 20.9 points on .394 shooting in 20 playoff games, with low points and peaks. “That’s my home. There’s not a part of L.A. I haven’t seen. I don’t get caught up into (talk of his wanting to be a Laker). I let whoever comes up with that say what they want to say. Only thing appealing to me is the things I’ve done in this organization and the things that can be done here. And that’s always been my mindset since I’ve been here.”
Can you ask for more than what Toronto gives you, he was asked.
“I don’t think so . . . my mindset has always been Toronto. I always preached it. I was passionate about it when we was losing. When we was terrible, I said I’m going to stick through this whole thing and I want to be that guy who brings this organization to where it is now. I definitely don’t want to switch up after we win.”
This may be the perfect example of both sides having a better understanding of what is best for them than what many might give them credit for. From DeRozan’s side, it was always assumed the allure of home and being a “star” for the Lakers would be enough to get him to leave the Raptors. However, with a run to the Conference Finals, an amazing friendship and on court partnership with backcourt mate Kyle Lowry, and the desire to want to try and continue to build a legacy with the Raptors, it seems DeRozan understands the grass isn’t always greener.
As for the Lakers, while DeRozan could certainly help in a variety of ways — his scoring, ability to get to the FT line, and strong mid-range game are all very useful to the Raptors and would be for the Lakers too — I don’t believe he’s the ideal type of player to chase in the off-season. I would much rather the Lakers explore wing options with more of a defensive pedigree and, if he is a high usage player like DeRozan, that he be more of a shot creator for others and natural ball mover.
This isn’t to dismiss DeRozan’s talent at all. While he’s not a stopper, he can hold his own against many of the wings he would be asked to defend on a nightly basis. And while he’s not known as a great shot creator for others, he has grown as a playmaker out of the P&R and has shown the ability to make good reads out of that action. Also, his ability to create in isolation both on the wing and out of the post can be valuable weapons in any offense — even the one Luke Walton will install next season.
That said, DeRozan’s another wing who likes the ball in his hands and he would be joining a group of young Lakers where that is already true for multiple guys. And while DeRozan is, right now, better than those players as an NBA-level fulcrum of an offense, that does not mean it’s the best idea to throw him into the mix and take away touches from those guys. The fact is the Lakers still need those players to grow into what they will become and that requires touches and patience.
Ultimately, then, this looks like to be a case of the timing not being ideal as much as it is the fit not being what it could be. Maybe if the Lakers weren’t about to add the #2 pick in the draft or if they didn’t have two ball-dominant guards who they are highly invested in already on the roster, things would be different for them. And maybe for DeMar, if he wasn’t coming off a long playoff run and hadn’t forged real relationships with teammates while becoming a franchise anchor, he might be ready to make a leap.
All those things are true, though. And it looks like both sides recognize that well enough that what was assumed a natural partnership earlier this year won’t happen after all.