The Toronto Raptors season ended with a 113-87 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in game six of the Eastern Conference Finals on Friday night. One of the Raptors' top players, shooting guard DeMar DeRozan, will be an unrestricted free agent in July and has been at the center of countless rumors painting him as nearly a sure thing to be interested in jumping ship to his hometown Lakers. Following the loss, the Compton native made it sound like such a move is far from a certainty (h/t Gary Kester of Lakers Outsiders).
"I don't think so," DeRozan told Mike Mazzeo of ESPN when asked if he thought there were better options for him than a return to the Raptors. "My mindset has always been Toronto. I've always preached it. I was passionate about it when we were losing, when we were terrible. I said I was 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 that up after we win."
DeRozan also directly addressed the rumors about the Lakers specifically:
"I grew up in L.A. That's my home. There's not a part of L.A. I haven't seen," said DeRozan, who attended Compton High School and USC before being selected No. 9 overall by Toronto in the 2009 NBA draft. "I don't get caught upinto it. I let whoever comes up with that say what they want to say.
"The 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."
Those don't sound like the quotes of a man ready to depart in free agency, and if the Raptors decide to offer DeRozan a full five-year, $145 million max contract, those cold, Canadian winters may sound a lot less unpleasant.
It appears Toronto are aware that kind of money is what they'll have to offer in order to keep their star. Zach Lowe of ESPN reported earlier this year that the Lakers"are prepared to offer [DeRozan] a max deal starting at $25 million per season, and the Raptors know they will have to spend big to keep him," so the Raptors know the price they'll have to pay to keep their Eastern Conference finalist together.
This news may seem disappointing for many Lakers fans hoping for the team to add several All-Stars this summer and add a nitrous boost to their rebuilding efforts, but it's not totally clear that DeRozan would be the right type of player to target anyway.
The Lakers and restricted free agent guard Jordan Clarkson have been open about their desire for a reunion, and it seems unlikely that Clarkson and DeRozan can play together. DeRozan is listed at 6'7, two inches taller than Clarkson, but hasn't shown the ability to defend larger wings necessary to play small forward that he would need for the two to pay alongside each other.
The two aren't a much better fit together offensively, where their slightly inefficient, ball-dominant attacking would be somewhat redundant (not to mention run counter to the "Warriors style" offense that incoming head coach Luke Walton wants to play). Clarkson is also younger and cheaper, and if the Lakers truly want DeRozan, his and Clarkson's per-36 minutes numbers at the same age compare rather favorably and indicate the latter could grow into a similar style of player:
When you add in that Clarkson put up those numbers under outgoing coach Byron Scott's outdated and simple offensive system while shooting a higher percentage from behind the arc, it's fair to project that Clarkson could at least approximate some of the production the Lakers would have been hoping to get out of DeRozan, all at a fraction of the price (from the L.A. Times' Mike Bresnahan's breakdown of Clarkson's free agency situation).
Teams with enough salary-cap room can give Clarkson a max of $57.8 million over four years or $34.1 million over three years. Clarkson can sign an offer sheet with only one team, which the Lakers have the option of matching.
Or the Lakers could swoop in before he starts talking to other teams and offer a four-year contract up to $88.9 million.
If the Los Angeles front office and Clarkson can meet somewhere in the middle of the max the Lakers can give him and what another team can offer, that would still be substantially cheaper than DeRozan.
Yes, DeRozan is a better player than Clarkson right now, but with the Lakers continuing to offer larger roles to D'Angelo Russell and their incoming second overall pick going forward, the team may be better off using the money it would have thrown at DeRozan to try and fill their hole at the center position or try and make an upgrade defensively on the wing.
DeRozan sounds happy in Toronto, and him staying there (and skipping a Los Angeles homecoming) may actually be the best thing for all parties involved.
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