The most distressing rumor an NBA fan can hear is that their favorite team is seriously considering a trade that makes absolutely no sense, which is exactly how I feel about the Lakers trading for the Spurs’ DeMar DeRozan.
No disrespect to DeRozan, he’s a proven veteran 20-points, 5-rebounds, and 5-assists per game former two-time All-NBA player and Los Angeles native who grew up rooting for the purple and gold and idolizing Kobe Bryant. DeMar’s only 31-years old, is obviously available, is a reliable scorer who can get his own shot and create for others, and arguably could fill the Lakers’ need for a third star to complement LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
The problem is DeMar’s fit on a defense-first Lakers team whose greatest offensive need is improved 3-point shooting to stop opposing teams from from packing the paint to prevent James and Davis from getting to the rim. The 6′ 6,” 220 lb DeRozan was the 10th worst defender on a Spurs team that was the 24th worst defensive team in the league and shot just 25.7% from deep last season, below his poor 28.2% career 3-point percentage.
So the question is what are the Lakers thinking? How can they seriously be considering trading for DeRozan when his mere presence on the court is likely to downgrade their defense and limit spacing for James and Davis? DeRozan has $27.7 million left on his 1-year contract, meaning the Lakers would have to send $22.2 million in return, which they could do with Green’s $15.4 million, Kuzma’s $3.6 million, and McGee’s $4.2 million.
Why the Spurs would like to do that is simple: Kyle Kuzma. But why the Lakers would swap their best trading chip and valuable expiring contracts for a star player who doesn’t fit and is on an expiring contract is a mystery? Assuming there’s some truth to the rumors and knowing Rob Pelinka’s a savvy and smart basketball executive, let’s see if a DeRozan trade could make sense when viewed in the context of other moves and strategies.
First, adding DeRozan, who can deliver 20-points, 5-rebounds, and 5-assists per game, could be transformative for the Lakers, who clearly lack a player who can get a high percentage shot for himself or a teammate at any time. Second, maybe the Lakers don’t have the assets to trade for a player of the quality of Jrue Holiday, Victor Oladipo, or Myles Turner. Maybe DeRozan is the best available option as a third star to complement James and Davis.
The truth is the Lakers spent most of their valuable trading chips to acquire Anthony Davis and the players they would be giving up for DeRozan are likely not as appealing to other teams as Lakers fans believe them to be. After all, Kuzma hasn’t developed as expected and wants a bigger raise than the Lakers are willing to give him, Green has not lived up to his resume or $15 million salary, and McGee became basically unplayable in the playoffs.
So what are you really giving up in a DeRozan trade? DeMar is arguably a major upgrade at starting shooting guard over Green and neither Kuzma or McGee were significant contributors to the Lakers 2020 championship run. While there are obvious fit issues to resolve, the major objections to trading for DeMar are based on the possibly questionable opinion the Lakers should be able to get a better player than DeRozan for Kuzma, Green, and McGee.
While the fit issues are real and he’s not a good defender or 3-point shooter, DeRozan does have legitimate strengths that fill major needs for the Lakers on offense, namely his ability to get his own shot and make plays for others. DeMar could be the third scorer and second playmaker the Lakers need to complement LeBron James and Anthony Davis. He’s also capable of being a go to player down the stretch who force doubles and finds open shooters.
The problem is how to account for DeRozan’s mediocre defense and lack of gravity from beyond the arc? The answer could be as simple as making changes to the Lakers’ starting lineup and roster to ameliorate those issues. For example, the Lakers could sign a stretch five center like Serge Ibaka or Aron Baynes, whose elite and prolific 3-point shooting can stretch defenses and create spacing for James, Davis, and DeRozan to attack the rim?
Replacing a traditional low post center like Howard or McGee with a modern stretch center like Ibaka or Baynes would transform the Lakers 3-point game and enable them to play 5-out sets to spread defenses and open up lanes. That’s a perfect offensive environment for DeRozan to take advantage of his ability to score in the paint via high percentage jumpers and easy layups or create easy scoring opportunities for teammates with his elite playmaking.
Finally, there’s another reason the Lakers might want to trade for DeMar DeRozan over other star players who arguably fit better like Jrue Holiday, Myles Turner, Buddy Hield, or Chris Paul, which is his expiring contract. While the Lakers are in a ‘win now’ mode, there’s no evidence Rob Pelinka is planning to abandon his grand plan to create maximum cap space to pursue Giannis Antetokounmpo next offseason despite the impact of coronavirus.
Despite Kawhi’s rejection last summer, Pelinka stubbornly refused to sign players to contracts for more than two years, opting to preserve as much cap space as possible to sign Giannis or another legitimate third superstar. While the pandemic may have dimmed the Lakers’ chances of creating the cap space for a third superstar, Rob Pelinka may still be committed to the original plan and unwilling to take on more than 1-year contracts.
That would certainly explain why the Lakers might be looking at DeRozan as their best viable option for a major roster upgrade this season without compromising their plans to pursue a third superstar next offseason. Trading for DeRozan and signing Ibaka or Baynes could be the Lakers best option to respond to the major challenges they’re likely to face as the Clippers, Bucks, Warriors, Celtics, and Heat all upgrade their rosters.
The Lakers have never been focused on winning single championships and Rob Pelinka knows LeBron James’ seeming invincibility will come to an end and the Lakers will need another superstar to complement Anthony Davis. The dream of a Lakers’ Big Three and a superstar to pair with AD may be what’s driving the Lakers to pursue DeMar DeRozan as a 1-year option to repeat as NBA champions while still keeping the big picture plan alive.