Few players have had the awakening this NBA season that Bulls star DeMar DeRozan has had. At age 32, DeRozan has been posting the kind of numbers he has not put up since he was in his prime in Toronto, before the Raptors cast him aside to pick up a fellow named Kawhi Leonard in a trade with San Antonio. The Clippers saw that up close last week when DeRozan hung 35 points on them.
While DeRozan put up good enough numbers for the Spurs, what’s happened this year in Chicago has been eye-opening—he is scoring 26.6 points per game on 48.85 shooting, and getting to the free-throw line 8.1 times per game, fourth in the NBA. He is among the top MVP candidates in the league.
Nice to see for an L.A. kid who grew up in Compton and attended USC. But the kicker is, when he was a free agent this summer, he had some conversations with the Clippers. He was eager to play in L.A., but it just did not work out. He wound up not meeting with the Clippers, but it would have been interesting to see what kind of pitch Lawrence Frank, Jerry West & Co. might have made.
“They didn’t have much, but it was a conversation that was brought up and it didn’t get as far as the Lakers’ situation,” DeRozan told Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports. “Both L.A. teams were definitely a big possibility for me.”
Clippers Lacked Draft, Trade Assets
This is one of the big issues the Clippers face if they want to improve the team they have this season—there are not a lot of assets on hand. The Clippers did not have the cap space to sign DeRozan, and they won’t have any space for the foreseeable future, not with Paul George and Kawhi Leonard on the books for $85 million combined next season and $91 million the following year. That keeps the cap clogged through 2023-24.
The Clippers have both signed, at $48 million each, for 2024-25, but in each case, those final years are at player options.
L.A. did not have a whole lot else to trade this offseason, other than veteran point guards Patrick Beverley and Rajon Rondo, along with young big man Daniel Oturu. The Clippers turned that trio into Eric Bledsoe in a trade with Memphis, and that deal has been showing signs of paying off recently.
The Clippers are also locked out of sending away first-round picks because they owe their picks in 2022, 2024 and 2026 to the Thunder as a result of the Paul George trade. NBA teams are not allowed to trade future first-round picks in back-to-back years, so the 2023, 2025 and 2027 picks are off-limits in a trade, too.
With no money to offer DeRozan in free agency and no draft picks to send to San Antonio in a trade, there was no hope of the Clippers landing DeRozan, even if he liked the idea.
DeRozan Thought He Was Heading to Lakers
But the Lakers, he said, did have a real chance. If the Lakers had not gone after Russell Westbrook, a move the team surely regrets given his early struggles, DeRozan felt he’d have wound up in the other locker room at Staples Center.
“I felt like going to the Lakers was a done deal and that we were going to figure it out. I was going to come home,” DeRozan told Haynes. “The business side of things just didn’t work out. A couple of things didn’t align. It didn’t work out. It’s just part of the business, part of the game. My next option was definitely Chicago. So, looking back at it, it worked out well.”