San Antonio Spurs guard and unrestricted free agent DeMar DeRozan made no secrets about it: He wanted to return home and play for the Los Angeles Lakers this summer, and chase a title for the team he grew up rooting for.
In a podcast interview last week, DeRozan said playing for the Lakers would be “a great opportunity” after previously calling it an “honor” to be linked to the team in trade rumors. There were even reports that he was willing to take a pay cut to join the purple and gold, and that the Spurs would be willing to facilitate his return to Los Angeles if the Lakers sent them back their long-coveted Kyle Kuzma in return.
However, with Kuzma’s inclusion in the Lakers’ blockbuster trade for DeRozan’s fellow Los Angeles native Russell Westbrook, it would appear the possibility of a DeRozan addition is dead in the water. Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports reports that despite previously being recruited back to L.A. by LeBron James himself, DeRozan is not going to take the pay cut that would now be necessary to join his hometown team:
San Antonio Spurs unrestricted free agent DeMar DeRozan was in talks with James, sources said, but the Westbrook deal eliminated that option because it would have required a sign-and-trade scenario and a Kuzma inclusion.
That makes some degree of sense. DeRozan made $27.7 million last year. If he was signed-and-traded for Kuzma, he could have made up to $15 million for the Lakers, who would have been hard-capped by the transaction. But with Kuzma gone and no other big salaries to send back to the Spurs, the most the Lakers could offer him would be the $5.9 million taxpayer’s mid-level exception, a pay cut of more than $20 million. Even for the chance to return home, there is only so much money a guy is willing to pass up on.
And even if DeRozan was willing to take the mid-level, it’s fair to wonder if the Lakers would be as enthusiastic about adding him in the wake of the Westbrook deal. Even with Anthony Davis reportedly set to play more center to space the floor for the shooting-deprived Lakers to help facilitate Westbrook’s arrival, the team will still need some shooting on the floor. DeRozan is not a great 3-point shooter, and has mostly played power forward amidst his newfound career renaissance to make the spacing work for the Spurs. With James set to play more at the 4 this season, the minutes, opportunity, fit and money just may not be there for DeRozan in Los Angeles.
So for as much fun as the story of the Lakers reuniting a bunch of NBA Twitter-maligned L.A. kids in purple and gold to chase a title would be, the DeRozan addition just may not make sense for either side anymore. Anything is possible when free agency opens up on Monday, but for now, it’s safer to assume DeRozan is headed elsewhere.