LeBron James deserves DeMar DeRozan ‘blame’

Magic Johnson wanted the Lakers to pursue DeMar DeRozan in the offseason over Russell Westbrook.

The Lakers legend was discussing this season’s roster makeup Monday, during consecutive appearances on ESPN’s morning shows, “Get Up” and “First Take.”

After giving praise to the Lakers’ leading scorer, LeBron James, Johnson said the franchise face is to blame for LA passing up DeRozan — who signed a three-year, $82 million deal last August via a sign-and-trade with the Spurs.

“The blame that he’s got to take is the fact that DeRozan ended up in Chicago and not with the Lakers. 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,’” Johnson said on “Get Up.”

“We could’ve made that deal. But when Russell and LeBron started talking, that’s when they nixed that deal and went with Westbrook… If you signed DeRozan and you only trade [Kyle] Kuzma for Buddy Hield, we would be playing in the Western Conference championship this year with those two guys.”

DeRozan is in Compton, Calif. native, and attended USC for a year before the Raptors took him No. 9 overall in the 2009 NBA Draft.

DeMar DeRozan (11) playing for the Bulls against the Clippers on March 31, 2022.
Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Lakers acquired Westbrook last summer in hopes of forming a Big 3 with James and Anthony Davis, but their master plan never came to fruition. Injuries kept James and Davis sidelined throughout the season, and Westbrook has struggled on both ends of the floor for the majority of the season.

“I called [Lakers general manager] Rob [Pelinka] and said, ‘DeRozan wants to come play.’ So I got out of the way… I went on vacation and the next thing I hear is we’re not gonna sign DeRozan but trade for Westbrook,” Johnson said on “First Take” later in the day.

“They had the Buddy Hield trade already done and then backed out of it. You have DeRozan and Hield, then you could’ve kept [Alex] Caruso and KCP [Kentavious Caldwell-Pope]. Those guys are defenders. They’re on-ball defenders… We’d be competing for the Western Conference Finals.”

LeBron James
LeBron James reacts during the Lakers’ loss to the Pelicans on April 1, 2022.
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Hield was rumored to be heading to the Lakers from the Kings in a deal centered around Talen Horton-Tucker. Caruso signed a four-year, $37 million contact with the Bulls last August — four days after the Lakers traded Caldwell-Pope to Washington as part of a package for Westbrook.

Westbrook is the highest-paid player on LA’s roster, earning $44 million, ahead of LeBron James ($41 million). The former league MVP and the Lakers reportedly have mutual interest about finding him a new team in the summer.

Last November, DeRozan himself even said he believed he was going to be a Laker.

“I felt like going to the Lakers was a done deal and that we were going to figure it out. I was going to come home,” DeRozan told Yahoo Sports. “The business side of things just didn’t work out. A couple of things didn’t align. It didn’t work out. It’s just part of the business, part of the game. My next option was definitely Chicago. So, looking back at it, it worked out well.”

Magic Johnson Lakers
Magic Johnson and his wife Cookie at the Governors Awards on March 25, 2022.
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The Post’s Marc Berman previously reported the Knicks were one of the teams DeRozan was most interested in joining before he committed to Chicago.

Johnson expressed his disappointment in the Lakers, who entered Monday in the 11th spot in the Western Conference with four games left in the regular season. Westbrook’s failure to find his rhythm within the injury-plagued roster heavily contributed to the Lakers’ season-long struggles.

Meanwhile, DeRozan is playing history-making basketball in Chicago, putting up career-high numbers in scoring.

As of April 3, the Lakers have a 0.7 percent chance of making the NBA Playoffs, according to FiveThirtyEight’s projections. The play-in tournament begins April 12 and concludes April 15.

Lakers
LeBron James (l.), Anthony Davis (3) and Russell Westbrook (0) on the bench late in the Lakers’ loss to the Nuggets on April 3, 2022.
Los Angeles Times via Getty Imag

Lakers head coach Frank Vogel has also been at the center of speculation about his job security amid the LA’s disastrous season.

“We can’t point the fingers just at Vogel,” Johnson said on “Get Up.” “Russell, you got to take responsibility and say, ‘I didn’t play well for four, five months.’ AD, you have to stay healthy… Maybe next season, they have to look at you and be like maybe you need to be somewhere else… Somebody’s got to take the blame. Someone’s got to be the fall guy and that’s probably going to be Vogel.”

Johnson added that he “feels sorry for LeBron,” because of the type of season the 37-year-old is having. James is averaging 30.3 points, 8.2 rebound and 6.2 assists this season.

Last month, James passed Karl Malone for second on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, trailing only Lakers legend Kareem Abudl-Jabbar.

James sat out Sunday’s 129-118 loss to the Nuggets with a nagging ankle injury. The 31-47 Lakers play the West-leading Suns in Phoenix Tuesday.

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