It is widely reported that the Los Angeles Lakers have $60 million or more to spend on free agents this summer, and with that much cap space, they are in a position to compete for any player who is available. The team is looking to add a star, and while many names have been mentioned, Toronto Raptors’ guard DeMar DeRozan is said to be the free agent the Lakers have the best chance of signing.
During the past three years, most of the rumors surrounding the Lakers have turned out to be false. But the buzz surrounding DeRozan continues despite reports that he is happy in Toronto playing for a team that is competing for a championship.
This optimism is largely based on the fact that DeRozan is from Los Angeles and may want to play for the hometown team he rooted for as a boy. He attended Compton High School where, following his senior year, he was honored as a McDonalds All-American and Parade All-American. He was ranked by Rivals.com as the number three high school prospect in the nation. He chose to play college ball at USC rather than at North Carolina, where he was also recruited, and in his one season at USC averaged 13.9 points while shooting .52% from the field. He capped off an excellent freshman year by making the Pac 10 All-Freshman team and was named the Pac 10 Tournament’s most valuable player.
DeRozan was selected with the ninth overall pick by the Raptors in the 2009 NBA draft. Still only 26, he is a two-time NBA All-Star, who had his best overall statistics this past season. He averaged 23.5 points, a career high, and also set career highs in assists (315), rebounds (349), points scored (1830), and free throw percentage (85%). He appeared in 78 games and averaged 35.9 minutes per contest. Most importantly, he led his team to the Eastern Conference Finals and the best record in franchise history.
DeRozan is just entering his prime. He qualifies as an NBA star, and at the moment, the Lakers are a team without a star. Despite all the positives, many fans are not enamored with the idea of the Lakers pursuing him this offseason.
For one thing, he is a volume shooter whose accuracy has been below-average for much of his career. In three of the past five years, his overall shooting percentage was in the 41-42 range, which is poor, though he improved this past season to a respectable 44.6 while taking 18 shots per game. But he still made only 33.8 of his three-point attempts, which was higher than his career average. Before last season, his highest three-point percentage in any season was .305% in 2013-14.
Another negative is that DeRozan has a reputation for being a ball-stopper, someone who likes to go one-on-one rather than move the ball. Some question whether his style will fit the scheme that new head coach Luke Walton is said to want to install.
There is also the issue of DeRozan’s defense or lack thereof. The Lakers were the worst defensive team in the NBA last season, and improving the perimeter defense is one of the team’s highest priorities for next season. Wing players like Jimmy Butler and Kawhi Leonard compete on both ends of the court. The knock against DeRozan is that he only plays hard on offense.
Finally, the prospect of signing DeRozan is also unpopular with fans who worry about the impact of such an acquisition on current guards D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson. DeRozan, at 6’7,” could play small forward just as Kobe Bryant was moved there last season, but he has only played shooting guard since joining the NBA. If DeRozan is signed, it may mean that either Russell or Clarkson will have to come off the bench, and this means significantly fewer minutes for that player.
To sign DeRozan, the Lakers will probably have to offer him a long-term max contract. He is good, but is he that good? It might be smarter to use their cap space on a “3 and D” wing player or a center, both of which appear to be more pressing needs. Some consider Russell and Clarkson to be more shooting guards than point guards, so why use cap space to sign yet another shooting guard? Plus, if the Lakers can’t attract a true superstar this offseason, they might want to maintain flexibility, so when something better comes along, like Russell Westbrook, who will be a free agent next summer, the Lakers will have room to make the strongest possible pitch.
After being thoroughly embarrassed in their efforts to sign prominent free agents the past two years, Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak are probably thinking that to save face, they must at all costs do better this summer. The question is, what if DeRozan is the only top free agent willing to sign with the Lakers who are coming off the worst season in franchise history? It may be very hard for the front office to say no.
Kupchak has been inconsistent in his statements about what to expect from the Lakers this summer. On the one hand, he said he is happy with the young core and that he plans on keeping the team’s number two draft pick. But he also said that after the terrible season the Lakers just endured, no one on the roster is safe. No matter what he said publicly, it is likely that the Lakers are looking to make a big splash this offseason, and if they can acquire top talent either by trade or in free agency, or both, the roster could look very different this fall from what fans are thinking right now.
One of those changes just might include DeMar DeRozan returning to his hometown in free agency.