The Los Angeles Lakers wanted DeMar DeRozan, and that’s not a secret, but they didn’t get him.
In September, a deep dive into free agency by The Athletic gave everyone a closer look at just how invested LeBron James and Co. were in adding the veteran forward to the Lakers roster. DeRozan reportedly had numerous conversations with James about the potential pairing, and front office leader Rob Pelinka even started to brainstorm sign-and-trade packages to pry him away from the San Antonio Spurs.
A fresh contract with the Lakers would have been a homecoming for DeRozan, who grew up in Compton and attended USC to play college ball. The appeal of playing back in front of the home crowd after 12 seasons elsewhere had to pull at the heartstrings. After all, DeRozan was also rumored to have an interest in joining the Clippers. But sometimes the emotional decision isn’t the best decision, and DeRozan touched on that in a recent discussion with Draymond Green on his Bleacher Report show “Chips.”
“It was a real possibility. I’d be lying to you if I didn’t say I wanted to come home. I did try to make it happen. There was a real possibility on it happening. Just things didn’t work out,” DeRozan told Green. “But Chicago was always in my top-5. It was always in my radar.
They make the move to get Lonzo, great pick up, been a fan of his. And you’ve seen the narrative change with Zach wanting to to stay if I came. Obviously, Vooch there, and you know we just build off that where it’s like, ‘all right, this thing can really be a possibility.’ Then, on the back of it, it’s a hell of a city. Hell of a city, hell of an organization to where if you get this thing winning here, it’s … come on.”
I’m not stupid (or at least … I try not to be), so I’m not going to sit here and pretend like a three-year, $82 million contract did not at least nudge DeRozan in Chicago’s direction. Neither the Lakers nor Clippers nor several other proven contenders were going to easily make that kind of money work. But at the same time, money isn’t everything, especially for a player who has already made upwards of $175 million over his career.
The Chicago Bulls still had to convince DeRozan to hop off the ring chase bandwagon and join a franchise that has missed the playoffs in four straight seasons. All things considered, that’s not an easy thing to do, and it’s why their ability to pull it off has been arguably the most significant sign of change inside the Chicago Bulls organization.
Despite being one the most renowned brands in the history of sports, the Chicago Bulls have never been a free agent destination. Before this summer, arguably the team’s most high-profile free-agent signing was Carlos Boozer (if you want to say Pau Gasol, be my guest). For this organization to take a step in the right direction during the age of player mobility and dynamic duos, that needed to change fast. Cue Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley.
While market size will always have its impact, becoming a destination is a domino effect. All you need is someone who isn’t afraid to push that first domino, and Karnisovas was that someone at the trade deadline last season. Not only was the acquisition of Nikola Vucevic a way to show players around the league they were ready to step back in the competitive spotlight, but it also showed an indirect investment in Zach LaVine.
A blossoming All-Star, the eagerness to add talent around him screamed to other players, “we got someone special here.”
But why come and join that someone special instead of making him come to you? Karnisovas and Co. showed why this offseason with an even more aggressive pursuit of well-respected talent. As DeRozan said, the Bulls showed a willingness to change so much that for the first time in a long time players could think, “all right, this thing can really be a possibility.”
All of this is why those who have monitored the Bulls closely for years are less stressed about the money and draft capital dumped over the last 8 months. While Karnisovas and Eversley paid to change the outcome on the floor, they also paid to change their perception and reputation around the league. Sure, there might be obstacles down the road if the approach fails to net a positive response, but (1) smart organizations know how to tackle those obstacles, and (2) risk is part of the game.
The ultimate test of this front office’s capabilities will begin when the season tips off later this week. But as we enter this new era of Bulls basketball and experience the ups and downs that come with it, we should remember how much has already changed. The Chicago Bulls have failed to be at the top of mind for players and fans around the league for years on end. Now, it’s going to be hard not to notice them.
Watch DeRozan’s full interview with DeRozan below: