Los Angeles Lakers legend Magic Johnson wanted the team to pursue DeMar DeRozan last offseason over the big signing they made – Russell Westbrook.
The five-time champion with the Los Angeles franchise discussed the roster composition for the 2021-22 campaign Monday during back-to-back appearances on ESPN’s ‘Get Up’ and ‘First Take’ shows. And his words hit home.
After praising the Lakers’ all-time leading scorer, superstar LeBron James, Johnson said the team’s star player is to blame for Los Angeles passing up forward DeMar DeRozan from the Spurs to Chicago.
DeRozan, who signed a three-year, $82 million contract last August via a sign-and-trade that sent him from San Antonio to Chicago.
Magic ‘blasted’ LeBron for seeking Westbrook over DeRozan
“The blame (LeBron) has to take is the fact that DeRozan ended up in Chicago and not with the Lakers. DeRozan wanted to play for the Lakers and when I got the call from his agent, (Aaron Goodwin), I called the Lakers and said, ‘Hey, (DeRozan) wants to come home,'” Johnson recounted on ‘Get Up’.
Magic continued his account on the show by asserting that it all fell apart from the moment King James began recruiting Russell Westbrook, who there was talk they would play together from their time in Oklahoma City, to snatch him away from the Wizards.
“We could have made that deal. But when Russell and LeBron started talking, that’s when that deal was scrapped and he went with Westbrook. If DeRozan was signed and just traded Kuzma for Buddy Hield, we’d be playing for the Western Conference championship this year with those two guys,” he said.
According to the stats, Lakers superstar LeBron is having a spectacular season. But his team is not and is falling further and further out of the playoffs.
Despite James’ league-leading average of 30.3 points per game, which he has complemented with 8.2 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game, the Lakers are currently 31-47 and in serious danger of missing the NBA ‘Play-In’.
While LeBron is doing all he can on the court, Johnson said the 18-time All-Star must take his “responsibility” for what could have been different when the team was built last year.
DeRozan, a native of Compton, California, was an unrestricted free agent in 2021. He even admitted that early negotiations led him to believe that a return home to join the Lakers was a “done deal.”
The legend explained how he could improve the Los Angeles defense
Johnson, who served as the Lakers’ president of basketball operations from 2017-19, took things a step further, explaining the ways in which the team could have been built much better had they acquired DeRozan.
“I think with DeRozan, you have the opportunity to keep role players, like (Alex) Caruso, (Kentavious Caldwell-) Pope, and all those guys that are our best defenders left. And that’s why we’re a bad defensive team,” Magic said.
With four games left in the 2021-22 regular season, the Lakers’ defense ranks 23rd in the league.
Because of Westbrook’s $44.2 million salary for the 2021-22 season, the Lakers needed to send a big trade package to Washington to make the money work. To acquire Westbrook from the Wizards, the Lakers traded Caldwell-Pope, Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell and their first-round pick in the 2021 NBA Draft.