DeMar DeRozan said he wanted to come home to Los Angles and be a Laker when he was a free agent last summer, and he even talked to LeBron James. That deal never got close to being done, mainly for financial reasons.
Unless you ask Magic Johnson, who said he was pushing for DeRozan then laid the Russell Westbrook singing at the feet of LeBron James. Magic was on ESPN’s Get Up Monday and talked about it (hat tip to Harrison Faigen of Silver Screen and Roll).
“When I think about it, the blame that he’s gotta take is the fact that DeRozan ended up in Chicago and not with the Lakers. DeRozan wanted to play for the Lakers, and when I got the call from his agent, I called the Lakers, said, ‘Hey, he wants to come home.’ And DeRozan could have been a Laker instead of a Bull.
“We could have made that deal, but when Russell and LeBron and them started talking, that’s when they nixed that deal and went with Westbrook, and he became a Laker instead of DeRozan.”
Magic is right that LeBron — and Anthony Davis — pushed for Westbrook. The Laker front office agreed and went all in.
Magic said on ESPN the Lakers could have signed DeRozan, gone through the Buddy Hield trade that would have sent Kyle Kuzma and Montrezl Harrell to Sacramento, kept Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and re-signed Alex Caruso.
No, they couldn’t have. Financially it would not have worked, the CBA gets in the way. Magic the executive needs a cap expert in his corner.
DeRozan was a free agent and the Lakers had no cap space, the most they could have offered him was the taxpayer’s mid-level exception of $5.9 million. DeRozan’s market value was far higher than that, the Bulls signed him for $26 million this season (three years, $81.9 million guaranteed, could reach $85 million). While maybe DeRozan would have taken a few million less as a hometown discount, he commanded far more than the Lakers could pay him as a free agent.
The Lakers could have worked out a sign-and-trade with the Spurs (which means Caldwell-Pope and others have to be traded to San Antonio in the deal), however, that would have hard-capped the Lakers. Meaning the Lakers could not have spent more than $143 million on payroll this season (the current Lakers roster is $156.6 million). They could not have gone over that number. For any reason.
LeBron James and Anthony Davis combined make $76.5 million this season (more than half the hard cap number on their own). If DeRozan took a $3 million hometown discount to sign with Los Angeles, the Lakers are at $100 million for three players. Hield makes $19.7 million this season, so in Magic’s fanciful world the Lakers are now at $119.7 million, leaving $23.3 million total for 11 more roster players (minimum, that’s just to get to 15 players, they can’t afford injuries) plus any two-way players. No way they can afford to re-sign Caruso, even at the steep discount he did offer the Lakers.
All this means in Magic’s scenario, the Lakers would have been LeBron, Davis, DeRozan, Hield, and a bunch of minimum-salary players. It’s still a top-heavy roster with no margin for error or injury. Would that roster have been better than the one the Lakers ended up with? Yes, if DeRozan had the All-NBA level season for the Lakers he has had with the Bulls (Chicago has used him well, would Frank Vogel and the Lakers have done the same?). But were Magic’s fantasy Lakers competing with the Suns, Grizzlies or Warriors for the top of the West. No. Reality would not let Magic Johnson play fantasy basketball with his former team.