Jesse Johnson (USA Today)

DeMar DeRozan was supposed to replace Kawhi Leonard as San Antonio’s franchise player. That hasn’t exactly happened. He hasn’t made an All-Star team since being traded to San Antonio, and the Spurs missed the playoffs for the first time since 1997 under his watch in the Orlando bubble. Now DeRozan, 31, is mulling a $27.7 million player option and is reportedly unhappy in San Antonio. “DeMar doesn’t like San Antonio and doesn’t want to be there,” an anonymous agent told The Athletic. 

DeRozan seemingly refuted the report on Instagram with a post captioned “Me trying to figure out when I said that s–t,” but The Athletic was not the first source to suggest his displeasure with the Spurs. CNBC’s Jabari Young, a former Spurs beat writer, said bluntly that “DeMar is not happy in San Antonio” on ESPN San Antonio’s “The Blitz.” The Spurs have a number of young guards that they need to devote minutes and touches to, including Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Keldon Johnson and Lonnie Walker IV. Ideally, they’d probably like to move on from DeRozan and kickstart their rebuild around those youngsters. 

But DeRozan isn’t going to decline that player option, or at least he shouldn’t. Given his age and dip in production, there just isn’t going to be a $27.7 million offer on the table for him this offseason. That is especially true given the impact coronavirus has had on the cap. If he is playing for a new team next season, it will almost certainly be through a trade. The question is, how many teams would want him? While DeRozan’s shot-creation could help a lesser team rise into playoff contention, his poor defense and lack of 3-point shooting make him a poor fit on teams with championship aspirations. He doesn’t fit particularly well alongside other stars, at least in theory, and at 31, younger teams probably wouldn’t be very interested. 

That severely limits the sort of market San Antonio could drum up, but a few teams stand out as reasonable options. 

  • The agent that told The Athletic about DeRozan’s unhappiness in San Antonio suggested Detroit as a destination given his connection to head coach Dwane Casey. The Pistons have the cap space to absorb DeRozan relatively easily if they so choose. If they want to retain cap space, say, for a run at DeRozan’s former teammate Fred VanVleet, they have some expiring salaries to potentially send back (Tony Snell, Derrick Rose) so they can retain cap space. Still, the Pistons have been stuck in the middle of the Eastern Conference pack for years. A DeRozan-Blake Griffin core sounds like yet another No. 8 seed. In a season that may not include gate revenue, that may not appeal to Detroit. 
  • Orlando fits a similar mold as Toronto. Magic president Jeff Weltman came from Toronto, where he had a hand in building rosters around DeRozan. They’ve been without a primary perimeter scorer for years, and through Evan Fournier and Khem Birch, can scrounge together $20 million in expiring salaries. Like Detroit, though, the Magic probably aren’t satisfied playing for the middle, especially with Jonathan Isaac out recovering from a torn ACL. They seem likelier to tank. 
  • DeRozan is a Los Angeles native that grew up idolizing Kobe Bryant. The Lakers need another ball-handler. A package built around the expiring salaries of Danny Green, JaVale McGee and Avery Bradley is feasible, but all three of those players are better defenders than DeRozan. The Lakers won their championship with defense, and shooting was a concern as well. DeRozan doesn’t help on that front either. The Lakers would have to be extremely confident in their shooting and defense with every other rotation spot to take a shot on DeRozan. 
  • Never rule out the Knicks in big-name trade talks. Acquiring DeRozan would be cheaper in cash than a Chris Paul trade, and it would cost less in assets as well. If the goal is merely bringing in a star to help change the team’s reputation, DeRozan could work. But Paul is almost certainly preferable on that front. His impact on Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is proof of what he can do for R.J. Barrett and Mitchell Robinson, and his reputation as president of the NBPA is infallible. He can shoot. DeRozan can’t. The Knicks need shooting around those two young cornerstones. This is a possibility, but a slim one. 
  • Nothing that has happened since the trade suggests DeRozan would be interested in returning to Toronto. Masai Ujiri has admitted that their relationship hasn’t been fully mended yet. But the Raptors lost to the Celtics because they had nobody that could create his own shot late in playoff games. DeRozan can, and his expiring salary wouldn’t hamper their 2021 cap space ambitions. The issue here is making the money work. The Raptors don’t have enough money to send back to the Spurs at this point to facilitate a deal, but there are possibilities through sign-and-trades or step-ladder deals. The Spurs would get Norman Powell, a valuable role player whom the Raptors may like to move anyway given his 2021-22 salary, and Patrick McCaw as salary ballast. The odds of this happening should be viewed as nearly nonexistent, but it makes sense in basketball terms. 

None of these trades are slam dunks. DeRozan’s contract is hardly toxic, and his flaws aren’t debilitating. But he’s an expensive player that just doesn’t fit onto many good teams as anything more than a low-end starter or sixth man. He isn’t getting paid sixth man money, and in a cap crunch, few teams are going to want to overpay for someone that doesn’t defend or shoot at a high level. DeRozan on a contender makes sense in a league that no longer exists. 

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