DeMar DeRozan to Fill the Kobe Void?

The Kobe Bryant page is turned. His 60 point out the door  serenade closed a Lakers chapter and now life goes on. The Lakers rebuild is truly on the way, particularly with Luke Walton, the youngest coach in the league, on the sidelines orchestrating the action.The first order of Lakers business: get a big man to rebound and protect the rim. Sign some perimeter defenders who aren’t allergic to physical play. Develop the young talent that was drafted (Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, D’Angelo Russell, Larry Nance Jr.) Then add to that group a proven scorer, all the while veering away from the iso game, the dominant off-the-dribble scorer that slows the pace and plays one-on-one and reminds everyone of who just left.

However good that may sound to some, media reports suggest otherwise, that the old era of Lakers basketball may in fact be the new era of Lakers basketball. The Lakers have an interest in wing scorer free agent, DeMar DeRozan. According to Stephen A. Smith the interest is mutual.

“He’s made it very, very clear he wants to be in L.A. He has family out there. He’s from out there. He wants to be in L.A. He wants to wear the purple and gold and if there’s a way for it to happen, DeMar DeRozan will be in a Los Angeles Lakers uniform next season.”

DeMar DeRozan is a scoring talent who led the NBA in drives to the rim. To watch him score, whether at the rim or at the elbow, is to remember Kobe Bryant at age 24. DeRozan has every Bryant move in the book. He can iso and beat his man off the dribble. He can finish in traffic with his explosive vertical. He can dribble, spin and fadeaway. He has a step-back jumper. He can drain shots 16 feet and in with a 40+% accuracy, and he has made clutch shots in his career. He gets to the line routinely. DeRozan grew up on the Kobe diet and he has his hero’s game down pat. He once commented, “It’s fun learning some of the techniques that Kobe uses.” He credits everything he does in the post to Bryant. He defends Bryant’s personality too.

“They look at Kobe like he’s an a**hole. Which he’s not. He’s just one of them guys who wants every single thing out of the game of basketball. He sacrificed so much to do that. I think people don’t appreciate that side of him.”

DeRozan on the Lakers, (if it happens, and there is a likelihood that it might), guarantees that one thing continues. Celebrities will fill the seats. DeRozan is an exciting talent with athletic moves that often end up on highlight reels. He’s an All-Star. He has proven he has the game for a lengthy NBA career dropping 20+ points on successive nights. If you can’t have a young Kobe, then DeMar DeRozan isn’t a bad substitute when you are trying to sell overpriced tickets.

The Seventh Year Points FG% 3-Point% Assists Rebounds PER
DeMar DeRozan, 2015-16 23.5 44.6% 33.8% 4.0 4.5 21.5
Kobe Bryant, 2002-03 30.0 45.1% 38.3% 5.9 6.9 26.2

 

Shooting, The Seventh Year 0-3 feet 3-10 feet 10-16 feet
DeMar DeRozan, 2015-16 63.0% 43.3% 41.5%
Kobe Bryant, 2002-03 61.9% 46.8% 48.8%

The question remains: why do the Lakers want to replace Kobe with Kobe-lite? Hasn’t 20 years of  Kobe drama-melodrama been enough?

Fact: the opportunity to create a new Lakers image is offset by the reality that Jim Buss is on his way out if the Lakers don’t make the playoffs. He made that declaration without being prompted and his sister is holding him to it. Developing Randle, Russell and Nance for another two years means Jim Buss is out of a job. Pull in a scorer, someone who has to be double-teamed, who can score on any type of defense, and he may keep his job.

There are the season ticket holders to consider too. When Mitch Kupchak made the ridiculous comment about this year not being about developing talent he was talking to the season ticket holders who wanted answers as to why the Lakers young guys were not developing as quickly as promised. Why is Julius Randle, a power forward, shooting 40%. Why is point guard D’Angelo Russell averaging 3 assists? Kupchak grabbed the low-hanging fruit. He blamed it all on Kobe.

When Kupchak said he couldn’t develop talent because this year was about Kobe’s goodbye, it caused a backlash. As if you can’t develop players and honor Kobe at the same time.

Kupchak walked it back and clarified what he meant.

“I guess there was some backlash to the comments that we can’t move on until Kobe retires. There’s no doubt this season is in great part a tribute to him and what he’s meant for this organization. To think we’re not developing our young players? Who’s starting? Larry Nance. Anthony Brown. Jordan Clarkson. Who’s playing 20 to 30 minutes a game? Julius Randle. D’Angelo Russell. There is a way to do both. “

So, if there is a way to honor everything Kobe has meant for the franchise and develop young talent at the same time, can the Lakers rebuild without settling on a Kobe clone?

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DeMar DeRozan grew up in Compton. He’s local. He’s one of us. Even his name is representative of what it means to grow up in black L.A. He was named after his uncle who was killed in a drive-by shooting. On a larger scale, because he grew up in the Lakers backyard, he gets what it means to be a Laker. He understands what the franchise represents to the city, what grip it has on the sports culture here, and that even with these Laker sorrow years, allegiance hasn’t been passed down to the Clippers by the rank and file. DeRozan, a Laker by birth, heart and  soul, is fully immersed in the Lakers-Celtic hate fest. He is a Lakers fan. Kobe Bryant was his favorite NBA player.

DeRozan has always been a natural scorer. He was a 25+ scorer in high school. When he was 16 years old, he attended Kobe Bryant Skills Academy. In college, he chose USC over North Carolina, and was a lottery pick, drafted 9th by the Toronto Raptors. Part of the reason he declared for the NBA draft after one year in college and a 14 point USC average was because his mother, who he is extremely close to, suffers from lupus, the autoimmune disorder that attacks the body’s tissues.

His rookie year, DeRozan lost in the finals of the Slam Dunk contest. The next season, in Madison Square Garden, he impressed with 36 points and 10 rebounds in a very Kobe-like performance. He took 27 shots. More Kobe-like scoring. 36 points on 33 shots against Utah in 2012. He made the All-Star team during his best year, 2013-14 when he dropped 22.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists.

There is no denying his offensive ability. He can get a shot anytime he wants, against anyone he wants. By offering DeRozan a max deal, the Lakers are conceding D’Angelo Russell won’t be the face of the franchise for a few years. That nod they are giving to DeRozan which means the offense revolves around everything DeRozan can do.

It would be an interesting matchup when DeRozan goes against the other star shooting guards in the conference, Klay Thompson, James Harden, Jimmy Butler.

2015-16 Points Field Goal % 3-Point % Assists Defensive Real Plus-Minus SG Rank PER
DeMar DeRozan 23.5 44.6% 33.8% 4.0 76 21.5
Klay Thompson 22.1 47.0% 42.5% 2.1 37 18.6
James Harden 29.0 43.0 35.9% 7.5 47 25.3
Jimmy Butler 20.9 45.5% 31.1% 4.8 11 21.3

DeRozan is very honest and open about how Kobe has influenced him.

“I try to always figure out places and movements and understand rotations from every position on the court. It’s really like studying. I think I kind of got that from ‘Kob’ so to speak. Kobe, he just told me what he did when he was young in his career. He watched so much film to understand every rotation, where he could pick and choose to get somebody an open shot. I try to figure out by visually watching somebody else. Then, once I’m in that position, I feel like I’ve been in that position before because I’ve been seeing it. I’ve watched it. That’s why I’m so calm and relaxed a lot of times when I’m on the floor.”

But one has to wonder. If the Lakers do sign DeMar DeRozan, how does that affect D’Angelo Russell. Russell has admitted he struggles as a playmaker when asked to organize the offense and get everyone shots. He feels more comfortable as a scorer. With DeRozan on board, he would be forced to develop his point guard skills. When DeRozan gets the ball, he’s not giving it up. He’s not as bad as James Harden, but he is an iso player who loves to drive to the rim.  He is a bad shot taker whose defense is suspect. And in the playoffs he disappears because the contested shots he takes in the regular season are shut down in the post-season as teams load up on DeRozan and force him to take shots that have a low probability of success. He gets frustrated, doesn’t have a Plan B and ends up with a playoffs like this one where when he makes a perimeter shot, it’s a surprise.

Post-Season Bust Points FG% 3-Point% Contested Shot Percentage PER
2015-16 19.4 34.9% 19.0% 31.3% 11.5
2014-15 20.3 40.0% 37.5% 38.1% 15.7
2013-14 23.9 38.5% 33.3% 39.6% 18.2

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In the past, the Lakers free agent dreams have blown up in their faces. But truthfully, the only unrestricted max-contract free agent they stole from another team was Shaq. And that was Jerry West doing the selling. With Jim Buss, it’s a 50-50 proposition. That said, Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony and LaMarcus Aldridge were long shots. Howard wanted Kobe amnestied. Carmelo wasn’t going to miss out on money. And Aldridge was 30 years old; he wanted a ring now.

The prospect of DeRozan being the first unrestricted free agent in the Jim Buss era skews more positively than negatively. DeRozan is L.A. born. He wants to be close to his family. He was born a Lakers fan so following in Kobe’s footsteps, his mentor and his idol, doesn’t intimidate him. He’s not scared. The Lakers have $60+ million to spend this summer and can pair DeRozan with a big man and still have money left over.

Toronto also plans to offer DeRozan a max deal and they can tack on one more year. The Raptors, with DeRozan, were thought of as a championship contender until they actually played in the playoffs. Sure, the Raptors can win enough games to get a top-4 seed in the Eastern Conference but that’s about it. They aren’t good enough, either strategically or mentally, to fight off a Cleveland Cavaliers team.

DeMar DeRozan to L.A. could happen. But should it?

photo via llananba