The perfect trade Lakers must offer Spurs for DeMar DeRozan
DeMar DeRozan is one of the many playmaking wings linked to the Los Angeles Lakers this summer. The Lakers are seeking more offensive punch and veteran star power, and the Compton native certainly checks those boxes.
Conveniently, the Lakers’ pathway to acquiring DeRozan looks a lot easier after his appearance on Shannon Sharpe’s “Club Shay Shay” show on Monday. The former USC Trojan did not deny the appeal of playing for his hometown team and hinted that he could be willing to take a massive pay cut to join a contender:
“It’s all about winning at this point,” he said. “Going into my 13th season and seeing all these guys just competing for a championship. At this point, you got to weigh out the opportunity to winning a championship kind of more. Especially with the career I’ve had. I’ve been fortunate to make a lot of money, but at this point, the ultimate goal is to compete for a championship.”
“You can’t ask a kid if they want to play at home (and think) they’ll say no. At some point, you will definitely want to have that opportunity, and especially if they want you. Why not? It’s a great opportunity.”
That is music to every Lakers fan’s ears.
(DeRozan and Los Angeles have been circling each other for years. In 2016, armed with cap space, the Lakers nearly splurged on him in free agency, but the Raptors retained him on a max contract. Last offseason, Rob Pelinka tried to deal Kyle Kuzma and Danny Green for DeRozan before pivoting to Dennis Schroder. DeRozan called it an “honor” to be of interest to the Lakers.)
DeRozan’s comments are not only welcome, but they signal the only realistic pathway the Lakers have of obtaining him. As an unrestricted free agent, DeRozan is a long shot to be signed-and-traded, which would trigger the hard cap for the Lakers and seriously hamstring their operations going forward. On paper, the Lakers’ limited trade assets make the idea of a swap unfeasible. Most importantly, Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs never, ever trade with Los Angeles. In fact, the last Lakers-Spurs swap came in … 1990.
The Lakers don’t have the cap space to sign DeRozan outright for anything more than the full non-taxpayer mid-level exception (about $9.5 million), which would also trigger the hard cap, meaning the Lakers would not be able to exceed $143 million in spending for any reason. Considering their cap sheet and active roster, they’d be forced to renounce multiple free agents to stay under the line.
Regardless, the Lakers would do that in a heartbeat, if DeRozan was willing. (The Los Angeles Times also reported that he would take a pay cut to don the purple-and-gold.) In a dream world, though, DeRozan — who has made over $185 million in his career — would agree to play for the taxpayer mid-level ($5.9ish million), but that might be unrealistically generous.
On the court, DeRozan may not be the ideal fit, but it’s hard to see him doing anything but improving the Lakers. Frank Vogel’s offense wasn’t exactly firing on all cylinders last season, and so often — even pre-LeBron and AD injuries — needed another jolt of scoring that Dennis Schroder and Kyle Kuzma couldn’t adequately provide on a consistent basis.
LeBron is a master possession-to-possession orchestrator, but he can’t quite get buckets when called upon as he once did. The Lakers are going to play slowly with LeBron and Vogel running things, and simply need another half-court go-to guy. DeRozan is also one of the game’s elite closers.
Like so many folks over 30 in today’s NBA (and across sports), DeRozan is still really good. His last two seasons with the Spurs have been the most efficient and all-around productive of his career: 21.9 points, 6.2 assists, 4.9 rebounds with a 52.1% eFG. That assist figure is particularly notable, as the Lakers want to add general shot-creation opportunities as much as anything. In 2020-21, he set a career high in Win Shares per 48 minutes (.172).
The issue remains his 3-point shooting. After semi-kinda developing a 3 in 2017-18 — the most recent of his four All-Star seasons — DeRozan has completely abandoned ship. He shot 22.7% from deep over the past three years, bringing his career number to 28.1%.
He’s a relatively poor defender, though he has embraced a shift to power forward in recent seasons, enabling him to play three positions.
All that said, the Lakers would jump at a chance to add DeRozan on a bargain. As for a trade — assuming we’re in an alternative universe in which the Spurs deal with the Lakers — the options are few and far between.
Rob Pelinka has offered Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope — both owed $13 million in 2021-22 — to seemingly any rival executive that will take his call, and is reportedly willing to move up or down in the 2021 NBA Draft and part with the No. 22 overall pick. Outside of those three chips, the Lakers’ cabinet of (valuable) tradable assets is nearly empty, depending on how you feel about the 2027 first-rounder. (Again, sign-and-trades are much easier on paper than IRL).
The Spurs do have a potential incentive to deal DeRozan rather than let him walk. Hypothetically, if he was unwilling to take that mid-level exception from L.A. but does tell the Spurs he’s gone, perhaps Popovich would make an exception to his “No Lakers” policy.
In that scenario, you’d think he’d ask for Talen Horton-Tucker as part of a package for a player of DeRozan’s caliber. It’s unclear if the Lakers would meet that demand.
From a Lakers perspective, and for the sake of this exercise, an ideal trade for DeRozan would feature Kuzma (or KCP, if San Antonio preferred), the 2021 first-rounder, and a handful of future second-rounders. DeRozan could sign a contract with the Spurs similar to Kuzma’s in annual value – so he’d still be taking a team-friendly pay cut, just not quite the MLE — perhaps for three seasons. That cost for DeRozan would be well worth a hard cap.