With the Los Angeles Lakers two games out of the final play-in spot and only four games remaining, it was only a matter of time before the finger-pointing started.
Magic Johnson appeared on ESPN’s Get Up Monday and claimed the Lakers dropped the ball in their pursuit of DeMar DeRozan during the offseason because of LeBron James. “The blame that he’s got to take is the fact that DeRozan ended up in Chicago and not with the Lakers,” Magic said of LeBron. “DeRozan wanted to play for the Lakers and when I got the call from his agent, [Aaron Goodwin], I called the Lakers, said, ‘Hey [DeRozan] wants to come home.’”
The Chicago Bulls acquired DeRozan, a Compton native, in a sign-and-trade with the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for a protected first-round pick, two second-rounders, and two players. Basketball fans immediately dragged the Bulls over the three-year, $82 million deal, but no one could have predicted that DeRozan would outperform the contract by posting a career high in points per game (28.0) at the age of 32.
Johnson alleges that at the time DeRozan made his intentions of wanting to sign with the Lakers clear, LeBron started speaking with Russell Westbrook, paving the way for a blockbuster trade in which Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Montrezl Harrell were shipped to Washington.
Magic believes if the Lakers signed DeRozan, they could’ve held onto some of their key defensive-minded role players, namely Caldwell-Pope and Alex Caruso, who also ended up on the Bulls. “If you signed DeRozan and you only trade Kuzma for Buddy Hield, we would be playing in the Western Conference championship this year with those two guys,” he said.
Johnson later appeared on First Take where he recalled an alleged interaction with Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka about DeRozan’s desire to play in Los Angeles before going on vacation. Needless to say, Magic was surprised to hear that Westbrook was headed to L.A. instead.
“They had the Buddy Hield trade already done and then backed out of it,” he said. “You have DeRozan and Hield, then you could’ve kept Caruso and KCP. Those guys are defenders. They’re on-ball defenders…We’d be competing for the Western Conference Finals.”
According to FiveThirtyEight, the Lakers have a 0.2 percent chance of making the playoffs.