Chicago Bulls All-NBA small forward DeMar DeRozan was, as he'll tell you, almost headed to his hometown team, your Los Angeles Lakers, in free agency last season.
During a newly-released podcast interview with J.J. Redick and Tommy Alter on The Old Man And The Three, DeRozan re-litigated the signing that wasn't, in beat-by-beat detail.
After agreeing in principle to set up a sign-and-trade deal with L.A., an excited DeRozan went on a vacation abroad to clear his head.
“I’m asleep one morning in Mexico. I get a call from [former Toronto Raptors teammate] Kyle Lowry. And he said, ‘They just made the trade for [Russell Westbrook]. What's going on? I thought the deal was done for you for the Lakers.’ And I was like, ‘I'm confused.’ I'm looking at my phone like, ‘Damn, that did happen. Well, I guess that's out the window.’ And in my mind, that was the only option for me to go to. I didn't even entertain anything else because I'm letting this situation work itself out.”
Chicago Bulls GM Marc Eversley had been embedded in the Raptors' front office while DeRozan and Lowry were making All-Star teams. He spoke with the Compton native about joining Chicago, and the then-Spurs wing agreed. He inked a three-year, $81.9 million contract with Chicago.
It's intriguing that, even now, DeRozan remains fascinated with the deal that wasn't. During his 13th NBA season, DeRozan enjoyed his best year ever with Chicago. He was a leading MVP candidate through the first half of the 2021-22 season, when he, All-Star shooting guard Zach LaVine, center Nikola Vucevic, and the defensive prowess of ex-Lakers Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso kept the Bulls near the top of the East. Injuries and some stiff competition eventually caused a slide, and Chicago ultimately finished with a 46-36 record, good for the sixth seed in the conference.
DeRozan himself was named an All-Star and an All-NBA Second Teamer for his efforts. Across 76 regular season games, the 6'6" swingman averaged a career-high 27.9 points per game on .504/.352/.877 shooting splits (that three-point percentage is also a career high, while the field goal rate is his second-best ever). He also averaged 5.2 boards, 4.9 dimes, and 0.9 steals a night.
Westbrook, meanwhile, proved to be a disaster in Los Angeles. So much so that both the point guard and the Lakers would apparently prefer a trade, though one has yet to materialize as of this writing. A Lakers club with last year's DeRozan could have been significantly better than last year's 33-49 vintage, even with the various ailments that struck down Davis and James. L.A. also infamously decided to let their own 2021 free agent, Alex Caruso, depart in free agency in favor of free agent swingman Talen Horton-Tucker. THT has already been shipped out since then. Imagine what a Laker team fielding a top four of James, Davis, DeRozan and Caruso might look like headed into 2022-23.