Former Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson chronicles how the offseason moves LeBron James wanted in 2021 hurt the team this season.
Imagine if the Lakers were 43-33, which would have put them in the Western Conference playoffs, instead of 31-47.
Perhaps that kind of record would have been possible if the Lakers did things differently last year and LeBron James wasn’t entrusted with roster decisions in the manner of a general manager.
According to former Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson, he would have done things differently in 2021—like getting DeMar DeRozan and keeping Alex Caruso instead of letting both slip away to the playoff-bound Chicago Bulls.
“DeRozan wanted to play for the Lakers, and when I got the call from his agent, I called the Lakers and said, ‘Hey, he wants to come home,’ and DeRozan could have been a Laker instead of a Bull,” Johnson explained on ESPN’s Get Up. “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.”
“And I think with DeRozan, and then you had a chance to keep the role players—[Alex] Caruso, [Kentavious Caldwell-Pope] KCP—all those guys who are our best defenders, they left. And that’s why we were a bad defensive team. But if you sign DeRozan, you only trade [Kyle] Kuzma for Buddy Hield, we would be playing in the Western Conference championship this year.”
Magic Johnson blames LeBron James for choosing Russell Westbrook over DeMar DeRozan
Johnson echoes the sentiment that has been held all season—the Lakers made a mistake trading for Westbrook—but he adds the context of how this situation could have been infinitely better if they merely made different moves.
Nothing that Johnson said was impossible: DeRozan was interested in the Lakers, and they could have opted to keep Caruso and KCP and still trade Kuzma for Hield, and the Lakers would have a much better defense.
Instead, LeBron influenced the team to take Westbrook over DeRozan, and the Bulls have the record that Johnson thinks Los Angeles should have instead. Considering the fact that six former Lakers now play for the Bulls, it’s not unreasonable to think that the Lakers would have been better off listening to Magic Johnson over LeBron James in this case.