Add Magic Johnson to the shortlist of Lakers legends who are criticizing LeBron James this past week. A list that already includes Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who recently said that LeBron should be embarrassed with his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But while Abdul-Jabbar is criticizing LeBron’s off-court activism, Johnson is taking aim at James’ involvement in the roster construction for the Lakers this season. Johnson thinks LeBron should take the blame for Southern California native DeMar DeRozan landing with the Chicago Bulls this summer over the Lakers.
“When I think about it, the blame that he’s gotta take is the fact that DeRozan ended up in Chicago and not with the Lakers,” Johnson said on ESPN’s Get Up on Monday morning. “DeRozan wanted to play for the Lakers, and when I got the call from his agent, I called the Lakers, said, ‘Hey, he wants to come home.’ And DeRozan could have been a Laker instead of a Bull.
“We could have made that deal, but when Russell and LeBron and them started talking, that’s when they nixed that deal and went with Westbrook, and he became a Laker instead of DeRozan.”
DeRozan instead went to Chicago in a sign-and-trade with the Spurs that only cost them Thaddeus Young, a future first-round pick and two second-round picks. If the Lakers had gotten DeRozan instead of Westbrook, they would certainly be in a better position than they are today. DeRozan wouldn’t have cost L.A. the giant haul it took to trade for Westbrook, which included giving up Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Montrezl Harrell.
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While it’s no guarantee that DeRozan would’ve worked with the Lakers, it has to sting quite a bit to see him having an All-Star year where he’s averaging a career-high in points per game (28), while shooting the ball ridiculously well (50 percent from the field, 35 percent from deep). To add insult to injury, DeRozan is also playing alongside Alex Caruso, another player the Lakers let slip away this summer by opting to not offer him a respectable contract.
Instead, the Lakers are 31-47 this season, and are two games back of the last play-in spot in the Western Conference. Though they aren’t officially eliminated from contention, the odds of L.A. passing the Spurs for that last spot in the play-in, and then actually making the playoffs is at 0.2 percent per FiveThirtyEight.
If what Johnson’s saying is true, that the Lakers could’ve had DeRozan had LeBron not pushed for Westbrook, then that’s a real misstep on James’ part. Especially considering Westbrook likely won’t be wearing purple and gold next season as it’s been reported that both sides have a mutual interest in finding him a new home this offseason. But at this point, it’s too late to sit and fantasize about what the Lakers could’ve been with DeRozan. Now, L.A. needs to focus on retooling around LeBron and Anthony Davis for next season and hope that this disappointing year was just a blip on the radar rather than something to expect going forward.