DeMar DeRozan gave many Los Angeles Lakers fans a real head-scratcher on Monday, making them ponder a major what-if question after he led his Chicago Bulls to a 121-103 win.
The question that went: “What if the Lakers had signed DeRozan instead of Russell Westbrook in the offseason?”
The 32-year-old forward dropped a season-high 38 points against L.A., keeping the Bulls in the Eastern Conference’s top-3 with a 10-4 record. Meanwhile, the Lakers fell to 8-7 with Westbrook putting in 25 points while shooting 8-for-19 from the field and 0-for-6 from behind the 3-point line.
It is common knowledge that the Lakers craved an eye-catching offseason signing last summer. Damian Lillard met with LeBron James at the four-time NBA champion’s Brentwood mansion to talk business. Then, L.A. seriously considered trading for Sacramento Kings sharpshooter Buddy Hield.
And before Los Angeles eventually pulled the trigger on the Westbrook trade, the franchise held advanced talks with DeRozan and the San Antonio Spurs — the forward’s then-employer — over a sign-and-trade deal that would send the California native to L.A.
Not only did DeRozan tell Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes the rumors were true but said he was convinced that he would soon arrive at Staples Center:
“I felt like going to the Lakers was a done deal and that we were going to figure it out. I was going to come home,” DeRozan told Yahoo Sports after scoring a game-high 38 points to lead the Bulls to a 121-103 victory at Staples Center. “The business side of things just didn’t work out. A couple of things didn’t align. It didn’t work out. It’s just part of the business, part of the game. My next option was definitely Chicago. So, looking back at it, it worked out well.
“But there’s always motivation. It may be just to come home and play in front of friends and family, competing against teams you grew up watching. There are all sorts of motivations that you carry and you try to channel that energy into the game. I find that in every game, but definitely coming back to your hometown, you want to play well and you have that motivation to put on a great show.”
DeRozan said he didn’t hold a grudge against the Lakers even though the deal fell through. He also understood the rationale behind L.A.’s move for Westbrook:
“Nah, Russ is a Hall of Fame player,” DeRozan told Yahoo Sports. “It’s hard to turn down that caliber of player. I can’t speak for the Lakers, but they went with what they felt was best for them. And all due respect to them. No hard feelings. No animosity, but I just look at it as part of the game. A deal is never done until it’s done. I learned that. It just didn’t work out. I’m just happy I’m in Chicago.”
The Lakers did face major obstacles in pulling off the DeRozan signing. A sign-and-trade deal would hard-cap them and severely limit their financial flexibility.
L.A. seemed desperate to avoid the hard cap after hitting it last year by using the mid-level exception to sign Montrezl Harrell. The move forced the front office to count every penny for the rest of the offseason and during the 2020-21 campaign.
Besides, the Spurs would have had to accept the Lakers’ trade package, which historically has proven to be a mighty challenge for Los Angeles.
Another option for the Lakers was to convince DeRozan to sign a contract worth not more than the taxpayer’s mid-level exception — which in 2021-22 reached just below $6 million per year in the first season. That would have earned the forward significantly less than the three-year deal worth $27.3 million per year he eventually signed with the Bulls.
Lakers welcome Alex Caruso back with tribute video
The Lakers saw a familiar face among the Bulls’ starters: their former guard and elite lockdown perimeter defender Alex Caruso. He left L.A. in the offseason, failing to come to an agreement over a new deal that would further extend his four-year stay at Staples Center.
But the Lakers showed class on Monday, welcoming Caruso with a tribute video played during the first timeout of the loss to Chicago.
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