Magic Johnson Talks Role in Lakers' Pursuit of DeMar DeRozan Before Westbrook Trade

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured Columnist IVApril 4, 2022

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 19:  Los Angeles Sparks owner Ervin Magic Johnson and DeMar DeRozan of the Toronto Raptors attend Washington Wizards vs the Los Angeles Sparks during a WNBA basketball at Staples Center on May 19, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images)
Leon Bennett/Getty Images

Los Angeles Lakers legend and former president of basketball operations Magic Johnson said during Monday's Get Up that DeMar DeRozan wanted to join LeBron James and Anthony Davis before the 2021-22 season. 

"DeRozan wanted to play for the Lakers, and when I got the call from his agent, I called the Lakers and said, 'Hey, he wants to come home,' and DeRozan could have been a Laker instead of a Bull," Johnson said (h/t Harrison Faigen of Silver Screen and Roll). "We could have made that deal. But when Russell [Westbrook] and LeBron and them start talking, that's when they nixed that deal and went with Westbrook and he became a Laker instead of DeRozan."

Johnson also said the Lakers should have traded Kyle Kuzma for Buddy Hield, a deal that reportedly was very close to being done over the summer, rather than going after Westbrook. 

On paper, DeRozan is a very obvious upgrade over Westbrook this season. The Chicago Bulls star has averaged 28 points a game for the 45-33 Bulls, playing a huge part in the team's revival after four straight years without a playoff berth. 

Westbrook, meanwhile, has proven to be an atrocious fit on the Lakers, averaging 18.4 points, 7.5 rebounds and 7.1 assists per game, shooting 44.4 percent from the field, 29.4 percent from three and 66.5 percent from the free-throw line. 

Worse, the Lakers are just 31-47 on the year and in real danger of missing the play-in tournament, let alone the actual playoffs. Westbrook has been the team's one constant amidst injuries to James and Davis, playing in 77 games, but he's been unable to elevate the Lakers in any meaningful way. 

But it's fair to question if DeRozan would have been a vastly better fit. He certainly would have handled the scoring issues while James and Davis sat, but he hardly would have addressed the team's issues with spacing and defense. And in Chicago, he's been the focus alongside Zach LaVine. 

In L.A. he would have been the third fiddle. 

Plus, DeRozan wasn't exactly coming off his best stretch of basketball in San Antonio, where his midrange game didn't exactly have the Spurs thriving. In his three seasons with the Spurs, the team lost its only playoff series and lost in the play-in tournament last year. 

Choosing Westbrook may have been questionable, but even detractors of the move probably didn't envision it going this poorly, and going for DeRozan at the time would have raised eyebrows too. 

Even Johnson praised the Westbrook trade over the summer:

Earvin Magic Johnson @MagicJohnson

Laker Nation, the blockbuster trade that’s bringing Russell Westbrook to the <a href="https://twitter.com/Lakers?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Lakers</a> is VERY exciting and will definitely make the Lakers a championship contender next season!

Yes, DeRozan is the better player in hindsight. That much is basically undisputed at this point. But the Lakers issues run deeper than just Westbrook, and DeRozan wouldn't have cured all—or even most—of them.