The Los Angeles Lakers have their focus set on the 2016 NBA Draft and the rapidly approaching NBA Draft Lottery on Tuesday that will determine the fate of their top-three protected first round pick.
Being fortunate enough to retain the pick would be crucial for the Lakers as they prepare to delve into one of the most important offseasons in franchise history. After winning just 17 games this season, Los Angeles needs an influx of talent to add to their promising, young core.
One of their biggest challenges will be to sell their on-court product to impending free agents. Keeping the pick or even trading it for established talent could help in those regards, but there is one free agent that reportedly has his eyes on the Lakers, with or without the pick.
According to Stephen A. Smith, Toronto Raptors All-Star DeMar DeRozan is eyeing a return home to the southern California where he grew up and attended USC, and it’s not to play for the Clippers. Smith was on ESPN’s First Take and had this to say regarding DeRozan’s expected soon-to-be free agency (h/t Ryan Ward of Lakers Nation).
“He’s made it very, very clear that he wants to be in L.A.,” Smith said of DeRozan’s intentions in free agency. “He has family out there. He’s from out there. He wants to be in L.A. He wants to wear the purple and gold, and if there’s a way for it to happen, again he’s restricted, if there’s a way for it to happen, DeMar DeRozan will be in a Los Angeles Lakers uniform next season.”
Any report that Smith throws out should be taken with a colossal grain of salt, given his past of throwing out rumors and hoping they will stick. Also, DeRozan is not a restricted free agent this summer, giving people another reason to instantly dismiss this report.
DeRozan can opt out of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent once Toronto’s playoff run comes to an end, a move that virtually everyone is expecting him to do, considering the massive pay raise he will get on the open market this summer.
Smith has been adamant for awhile now that DeRozan wants to and will end up wearing purple and gold next season, but there has not really been anything to suggest that the interest would be mutual. Although a talented player, he is not nearly an ideal fit with the Lakers roster.
They need a small forward that can shoot and defend, two areas that DeRozan struggles with most of the time. But then again, the Lakers need talent in the worst way, and might find themselves in a position this summer where they can’t be overly picky.
Will the Lakers cave on their usual high expectations in free agency and spend big money on a player that is not a desired roster fit? General manager Mitch Kupchak has stated that they will preserve their flexibility moving forward if they need to, as opposed to spending money just to spend it. The last two offseasons have effectively proven that to be true.
Free agency is about six weeks away, and DeRozan is still playing playoff basketball. I highly doubt he is thinking beyond his series with the Miami Heat, which could end tonight with a Raptors win, giving them their first Conference Finals appearance in franchise history. While his potential free agency will be a big decision for him this summer, his mind is focused on advancing to play the Cleveland Cavaliers.