The Los Angeles Lakers have been flirting with DeMar DeRozan for years now. They pursued him when he was a free agent in 2016, but at that point, Kobe Bryant had just retired and the team was not ready to compete, so he ultimately decided to re-sign with the Toronto Raptors. He was linked to the Lakers in trade rumors last offseason as well before they ultimately landed on Dennis Schroder, but afterward, he admitted that he was flattered by their interest.
DeRozan grew up in Southern California. He played collegiately at USC. He is a stylistic disciple of Bryant’s in the mid-range. The mutual interest between the two has always made sense, and now, a union appears likelier than ever. According to Brad Turner of the Los Angeles Times, DeRozan is willing to take a pay cut to join the Lakers.
Now, the real question here is how big a pay cut he would be willing to take. DeRozan made $27.7 million last season. The Lakers are far above the salary cap. Their likeliest path to signing DeRozan would be through the taxpayer mid-level exception worth roughly $5.9 million. In the event that DeRozan is not willing to accept a 75 percent pay cut, the Lakers could also engineer a sign-and-trade for him from San Antonio, but that could be costly. Aside from the value of the actual contract, acquiring any player through a sign-and-trade triggers a hard cap at the apron. That figure is projected to come in at around $143 million, and teams that trigger that hard cap cannot exceed it for any reason. The Lakers did so last season by using the non-taxpayer mid-level exception on Montrezl Harrell.
Harrell was a sixth man, though. DeRozan is a former All-Star. His fit with the Lakers isn’t simple. He is a poor 3-point shooter and defender, arguably the two most important traits any player can have alongside LeBron James. But they sorely need another ball-handler after the Schroder experiment failed. The Laker offense has struggled mightily in the minutes that James hasn’t played over the past three seasons, and DeRozan could change that. His mid-range shooting would provide a valuable alternative to the James-Anthony Davis pick-and-roll as a source of late-game offense. For the right price, he would be an extremely valuable addition.
It’s ultimately going to fall on DeRozan to determine what that price will be. If he’s willing to take the mid-level exception, adding him would be a no-brainer for the Lakers. If he wants a contract closer to the one he just finished, things get substantially harder for a Laker team with several needs. This is a conundrum that veteran players routinely face. They can maximize their earning power or select an ideal destination. Rarely are both available, and it will be up to DeRozan to decide what is most important to him moving forward.