The Los Angeles Lakers are on the outside looking in at the playoffs a quarter of the way through the regular season and, despite MVP-level play from center Anthony Davis, it is clear the team is a piece or two away from being legitimate contenders in the Western Conference, let alone to hoist the Larry O'Brien Trophy at season's end.
Enter, DeMar DeRozan.
The Chicago Bulls small forward, and teammate Nikola Vucevic have been the top of trade discussions in the Lakers' front office, according to ESPN's Zach Lowe on his podcast, The Lowe Post.
"The trade I saw on Twitter was Russ and both picks, one with light protections I think for DeRozan and Vucevic. I can tell you 100 percent for sure that the Lakers have had internal discussions about that very possibility, if it would ever come up," Lowe stated before clarifying that it is not necessarily a trade that is imminent.
"Not that they would do that. Let me be clear."
They should, though.
Win Now for LA, Rebuild for Chicago
The Lakers team is, and has been, constructed to win now and often.
The "often" part has not quite materialized but, with one of the greatest players of all time in James leading the charge and Davis playing some incredible ball since returning from injury, the core is there to contend.
The team just needs more of them and executing a trade for DeRozan and Vucevic is the perfect way to acquire said pieces. Might that mean sacrificing the future for the now by sending Chicago first-round picks in 2027 and 29? Probably, but that should not faze the Lakers.
As it stands now, the team potentially will not have a first-round pick until 2025, the result of the trade with New Orleans to acquire Davis, proof of its willingness to pull off the moves it sees as necessary to contend in the NBA.
Assuming the front office's mentality has not changed, there is nothing stopping the Lakers from offering the deal to Chicago and seeing if it can acquire two players in DeRozan and Vucevic who will instantly help improve an offense that struggled to score early this season.
DeRozan, in particular, would be a significant upgrade for the team. His 25.5 points per game are significantly higher than current small forward Lonnie Walker IV (16.7). They are also 11 points higher than those of Russell Westbrook (14.6), who would likely be apart of any trade package put together for the All-Star.
Considering Westbrook is a free agent next season, the Lakers would like to get something for him now before he walks in a few months.
It is not the first time the former Raptor and Spur has been linked to the Lakers. Appearing on JJ Redick's The Old Man and The Three podcast, he revealed "I thought it was a done deal," in regards to signing with the Lakers in 2021, only to find out the team had made the trade for Westbrook.
Vucevic would presumably come off the bench to spell Davis to the tune of just under 16 points and 11 rebounds. The player himself, not to mention his stat line, would be a significant upgrade to current backup center Thomas Bryant, who is currently averaging eight and 4.4, respectively.
The question is whether the Lakers would be willing to part with two picks of that magnitude for players who may not be with the team for the long-term.
DeRozan is signed through next season while Vucevic is on an expiring deal. Whether the Lakers would be willing to re-sign the players beyond this season would likely determine whether the trade makes sense. The Bulls, the other team involved, would also have to decide just how much of a loss they consider the season to be.
Chicago is currently ranked 12th in the East, five games under .500 and riding a three-game losing streak.
At 9.5 games back in the conference, a schedule that ranks as the toughest in the league and Lonzo Ball "no closer to returning to the court" following a left knee injury suffered on January 14 of this year, it would certainly appear that Bill Simmons' call for the Bulls to commence rebuilding the franchise would make sense.
For what it is worth, despite the Lowe report and what appeared to be his colleague at ESPN, Adrian Wojnarowski, supporting it with one of his own on teams checking in on Chicago's most valuable pieces, Fox Sports' Rick Bucher reported DeRozan is considered "untouchable" according to league sources.
Considering the potential to acquire franchise-altering draft picks in return for two players they would have to renegotiate with sooner than later anyway, and the Lakers' need for scorers if the franchise has any chance of contending in their conference, the trade is the best option for all involved.
Most of all, it finally lands DeRozan with the team he expected to be playing for a entire season earlier.