For years, the Lakers and Los Angeles native DeMar DeRozan have been like two ships passing in the night, constantly close, but not quite converging. In 2016, the team tried to use its copious cap space to bring DeRozan home, but were rebuffed when he decided to remain with the Toronto Raptors on a max deal. Then, last year, the team was reportedly interested in trading Kyle Kuzma and Danny Green for DeRozan, before ultimately opting to deal Green in exchange for Dennis Schröder.
Even so, DeRozan — who was still with the Spurs at the time — took the rare step of not only commenting on those trade rumors, but even called it an “honor” to be wanted to by such a successful and historic team. Honestly, it’s surprising Gregg Popovich didn’t cut him on the spot.
Now, one year later, DeRozan is an unrestricted free agent, and while him joining the Lakers is still far from a certainty, Brad Turner of the Los Angeles Times is reporting that DeRozan would be open to a pay cut if it lets him join the team he grew up rooting for:
DeRozan, who starred at Compton High and USC, has interest in returning home to play for the Lakers, even if it is for less than the $27.7 million he earned last season in San Antonio, according to people not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
DeRozan, a career 28.1% 3-point shooter who has only taken more than three attempts per game in one season of his career, would not exactly fix the Lakers shooting issues. He would also not exactly upgrade their defense. But all that noted, he could still add value, if the price was right.
The Lakers are reportedly seeking a playmaker to ease the burden on LeBron James and Anthony Davis offensively, and DeRozan would certainly fit the bill. While most have taken the previous report to mean that the Lakers want a point guard, they could also be searching for a proven bad shot maker like DeRozan, a guy who has never had a problem creating and taking shots. That’s a quality the Lakers were sorely lacking last season, especially in the playoffs.
DeRozan has also morphed into a more modernized NBA player over the last few years with the Spurs. He may not be taking a ton of threes, but he has become a better passer, averaging a career-high 6.9 assists per game last season, and 7.4 per 36 minutes, also by far a career-high. And all that came despite him having his lowest usage rate (26.3) since the 2012-13 season.
DeRozan did it by embracing the way to make himself most effective on the floor at this stage of his career. After coming into the league playing 72% of his minutes at shooting guard, DeRozan has slowly shifted up two positions, culminating with him playing a whopping 69% of his minutes at power forward last season, per Basketball-Reference.
The real question, then, is not if DeRozan could bring some value for the Lakers, but how much of a pay cut he’d be willing to take. He surely won’t be getting offered $27.7 million annually anymore, but right now, without clearing a bunch of cap space, all the Lakers can offer is the mini mid-level exception of around $5.9 million. If they renounce a bunch of their own free agents they can clear cap room, but that would mean losing a bunch of good players, something they likely wouldn’t do solely for DeRozan’s sake. And he can almost surely still do a bit better than the mini mid-level on the open market.
But free agency doesn’t start until Aug. 3, so there is still plenty of time to see what moves the team can make to set itself up for other additions. For now, DeRozan’s camp letting it be known so early that he’d like to come home is what’s notable. It just remains to be seen if that longing will fit into the Lakers’ own plans. But if one thing is clear from all of these rumors trickling out this week, it’s that the team will have plenty of options.