Now that it has become clear that the Lakers have minimal ways to improve their team via free agency, the trade market is officially the best way to upgrade their roster for the 2020-21 season.
The Lakers are likely looking for a secondary ball handler who can direct the offense and create his own shots to take the burden off of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, especially since James figures to be picking his spots during the truncated regular season.
As such, it comes as a little surprise that a report from Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer indicates that DeMar DeRozan could be a target of the Lakers (via his 2020 NBA Draft guide):
They’re also looking to unload LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan; I’ve heard the Lakers have interest in acquiring DeRozan (for Kyle Kuzma and Danny Green), and as mentioned, the Warriors may want Aldridge.
The Spurs would presumably be significantly interested in that rumored trade package. They have a deep fondness for Green, a champion with San Antonio in 2014 who was given a rousing ovation by Spurs fans the first time he returned to San Antonio after being traded to Toronto. Green played over seven seasons with the team, clearly enjoyed being coached by Gregg Popovich, and would likely be welcomed back with open arms.
Popovich and the Spurs also have a long-standing interest in Kuzma, dating back to when he was drafted. Kuzma’s trainer Clint Parks said that San Antonio would have selected Kuzma in the 2017 NBA Draft with the No. 29 pick had the Lakers not scooped him up two spots earlier. The Spurs continued to lust after Kuzma afterwards and demanded his inclusion in potential Kawhi Leonard trade packages in 2018.
Kuzma and Popovich developed a relationship when Kuzma attended Team USA camp in the summer of 2019 before the FIBA World Cup. Popovich lovingly compared Kuzma to Manu Ginobili in terms of his helter-skelter vibe on the court, but also in his ability to contribute as a sixth man, and was disappointed when Kuzma’s injury prevented the young Laker from competing. And even in their short time together, Kuzma eagerly soaked up whatever lessons he could — particularly on the defensive end — from Popovich, his self-proclaimed favorite coach of all-time.
Given all of that history, it’s fair to say that the Spurs would seriously entertain a trade that brings them a beloved vet and a young player they have documented interest in, all for the small cost of a player who doesn’t factor into their long-term future. That leads us to the Lakers’ side of this deal.
DeRozan checks a lot of high-level boxes for the Lakers. He is a four-time All-Star and Olympic gold medalist who would bring additional star power to the team he rooted for while growing up in Southern California. He is an incredibly capable shot creator who has ranked in the top ten percent of wings in assist rate since the 2013-14 season. He is an efficient scorer at the rim and in the paint. And he is on the final year of his contract, which would allow the Lakers to keep a clean cap sheet for free agency in the 2021 offseason.
But in sending out Green, the Lakers would be losing their best 3-and-D player, and for all of DeRozan’s skills, shooting threes and playing defense are not on the list. DeRozan isn’t just a bad 3-pointer shooter; he is an unwilling one who essentially had to move to power forward last season in San Antonio so that the Spurs could get enough spacing on the floor around him.
Furthermore, despite DeRozan’s athletic gifts — he has been jobbed in the dunk contest multiple times — he is on a five-year streak of his teams being better on defense with him off the court. In 2019-20, the Spurs improved by 5.3 points per 100 possessions on defense when DeRozan sat.
There’s also the problem that DeRozan is basically a combo forward at this point in his career, and the Lakers already have James and Davis at the three and four. Even if DeRozan makes sense on the surface, there are a lot of problems with his fit on this roster, ones that aren’t mitigated by his decorated resume and his status as an Angeleno.
If the postseason taught the Lakers anything, it’s that they need versatile players who make their living on the defensive end and provide space for the stars to work on offense. DeRozan is a talented player, but he doesn’t fit those requirements. A trade that sends away a Laker who fits that model to a tee while failing to bring back a replacement who doesn’t would not help the Lakers in their goal to repeat as NBA champions. The Lakers have limited means to acquire an impact player this offseason; they shouldn’t waste them on DeRozan.