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Former Lakers great Magic Johnson says LeBron James is to blame for Los Angeles not signing DeMar DeRozan in free agency.
“The blame that he’s gotta take is the fact that DeRozan ended up in Chicago and not with the Lakers,” Johnson said in response to a question about fair criticism of James, during an appearance this week on ESPN’s “Get Up.”
Johnson, the former president of basketball operations for the Lakers, went into details on the situation, saying DeRozan’s agent called him last offseason to let him know that DeRozan wanted to play for Los Angeles.
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Johnson said he then called the Lakers to inform them that DeRozan, who played college basketball for the USC Trojans, wanted to “come home.”
But the Lakers decided to acquire Russell Westbrook from the Washington Wizards instead – in exchange for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell and Kyle Kuzma.
“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,” Johnson said.
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After the deal fell through, DeRozan signed with the Chicago Bulls, and he’s having arguably the greatest season of his career. DeRozan is averaging a career-high of 28 points per game and a career-best shooting percentage from behind the arc with Chicago, which is currently the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference standings.
Meanwhile, Westbrook is having one of the worst seasons in his NBA career, as he’s averaging just 18.4 points per game, the lowest total for him since his second season in the league. He’s also averaging just 7.1 assists per game.
With Westbrook struggling this season, the Lakers (31-47) are the No. 11 seed and are on the verge of not even making the play-in tournament this month.
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Johnson said that if the Lakers had made the DeRozan deal instead, the team would have been able to retain key defensive role players like Alex Caruso and Caldwell-Pope – and “would be playing in the Western Conference championship this year.”