One of the more frequent discussion points around the Los Angeles Lakers in recent years has been the front offices’s “failure” to recruit elite free agents. Never mind that the team wasn’t good, or that the Lakers are far from the only team to not land a marquee free agent over the last several years, or even that nearly all the free agents who rejected their various degrees of interest usually had good reasons to do so. The Lakers simply MUST have been failing because they hadn’t signed anyone of note.
The latest player to reveal why they opted to go elsewhere rather than play for the purple and gold is Southern California’s own DeMar DeRozan. The Raptors shooting guard is currently in the midst of representing his country with Team USA, but he took some time to speak with Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News about the reasoning behind his decision to re-sign with Toronto:
Unlike other star free agents that saw too much lint in the Lakers’ glitter, DeRozan’s disinterest in the Lakers had little to do with their recent turbulence.
DeRozan may have grown up idolizing his hometown’s most glamorous franchise. He may have grown up admiring Kobe Bryant, imitating his moves and later dubbing him “the top five greatest player of all time.” Yet, DeRozan refused to compromise the same affection he has for the Raptors after they selected him ninth overall in the 2009 NBA draft.
“When you have an opportunity to go home, that’s something that certainly would cross your mind. But it wasn’t anything,” DeRozan told Southern California News Group. “After I finish playing, I’m pretty sure I’ll live in L.A. But I just wanted to do something special and leave a legacy of my own in Toronto.”
Medina also spoke to people around DeRozan, who revealed he may not have wanted to come home for similar reasons that Kevin Durant ruled out the Washington Wizards early in free agency:
Amid that support, those close to DeRozan did not express remorse he will not play in Los Angeles year round. Thomas believed DeRozan would encounter too many “distractions” with hometown friends asking too much of his time.
There is a lot to unpack here, but probably most notable is how (despite LeBron James doing otherwise in a high profile example) most NBA free agents don’t necessarily want to play for their hometown team. Whether DeRozan opted not to because he truly loves Toronto, or because he was worried about “distractions” in L.A., or some combination of both, it doesn’t really matter. Those are just two of the plenty of reasons players from a certain city may not want to return to work there.
All of this is worth keeping in mind as we continue to draw closer to Russell Westbrook’s free agency next summer. Maybe Westbrook feels differently than DeRozan, or maybe the Lakers are a more appealing destination on the court next year, but it’s dangerous to assume that just because he is from Southern California and enjoys spending time here that Westbrook would want to come home.
Instead of relying on location as an allure, the Lakers should instead focus on creating the type of environment that makes players want to stay, similar to the sentiment that drew DeRozan back to Toronto.
The good news is that by using up most of their precious cap space on veterans like Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov in an attempt create a more positive and competitive culture, as well as how transparent Jordan Clarkson was in wanting to re-sign, the team appears to be attempting to do just that.
You can follow this author on Twitter at @hmfaigen.