LOS ANGELES — DeMar DeRozan had multiple conversations with LeBron James in the offseason. His agent, Aaron Goodwin, worked feverishly behind the scenes with the San Antonio Spurs’ front office to get details ironed out on what would have been a sign-and-trade package to send the 13-year free agent veteran to his hometown team, the Los Angeles Lakers.
DeRozan, 32, believed everyone was on the same page, but the Lakers silently began exploring another route once Russell Westbrook was made available in Washington.
The talks between the Lakers and Spurs tapered off. Reading the tea leaves, Goodwin pivoted his client in the direction of the Chicago Bulls.
There was minimal debate internally among the Lakers' brass on which player would be the right fit, but there weren't enough key backers of DeRozan. Westbrook was acquired on the day of the 2021 NBA draft.
On Monday in DeRozan’s first game against the Lakers this season, he made the purple and gold pay for brushing him to the side.
“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 Yahoo Sports after scoring a game-high 38 points to lead the Bulls to a 121-103 victory at Staples Center. “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.
“But there’s always motivation. It may be just to come home and play in front of friends and family, competing against teams you grew up watching. There are all sorts of motivations that you carry and you try to channel that energy into the game. I find that in every game, but definitely coming back to your hometown, you want to play well and you have that motivation to put on a great show.”
The Bulls have been one of the hottest teams in the league through the early juncture of the season. At 10-4, they’re second in the Eastern Conference and a half-game back of the top-seed Wizards. DeRozan is averaging 26.9 points per game, the third-highest mark in the league. He’s also shooting a career-high 37.1% from beyond the 3-point arc.
Meanwhile in Laker Land, Westbrook’s transition home has been a struggle. The Lakers are 8-7 with the former MVP shooting 42.7% from the field and turning the ball over at an alarming rate of 5.3 per contest, which is a personal and league high.
The initial results suggest the Lakers may have misplayed their hand.
“Nah, Russ is a Hall of Fame player,” DeRozan told Yahoo Sports. “It’s hard to turn down that caliber of player. I can’t speak for the Lakers, but they went with what they felt was best for them. And all due respect to them. No hard feelings. No animosity, but I just look at it as part of the game. A deal is never done until it’s done. I learned that. It just didn’t work out. I’m just happy I’m in Chicago.”
The Lakers were not the only team in town that felt DeRozan’s dominance. The night before, DeRozan lit the Clippers up for a game-high 35 points with seven rebounds and five assists in a 100-90 win. The Clippers made a run at DeRozan during free agency, and he almost took a meeting with the front office, but they lacked the cap space to make a serious offer.
“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 Yahoo Sports. “Both L.A. teams were definitely a big possibility for me.”
DeRozan hasn’t made the All-Star team since the Toronto Raptors traded him to San Antonio in the summer of 2018. Despite three strong seasons with the Spurs where his assist numbers soared, he largely went unnoticed. At this rate, he’s a virtual lock — along with teammate Zach LaVine — to make the All-Star team for the fifth time in his career.
Ultimately, it appears DeRozan is in a better situation. The Lakers are one of the league’s biggest disappointments so far. And after Monday’s game, Laker fans left the arena disappointed that the 6-foot-7 wing wasn’t on their side.
“To be honest with you, I don’t ever tell anybody this but I just try to be an inspiration for people that’s told they can’t do something or that they’re not good anymore,” DeRozan told Yahoo Sports. “Never let a narrative deter your confidence or your belief in yourself to fall victim to somebody else’s narrative. Just keep working, trust your work ethic, trust timing, and keep hope and faith in yourself and everything will work out. That’s just how I approach everything in life. Just keep going, keep pushing and don’t feed anything into the negative stuff people say or write. Keep going.”