The Los Angeles Lakers’ season essentially came to an end on Tuesday night, when they fell to the Phoenix Suns 121-110. Although games still obviously remain on the schedule, that particular defeat signaled L.A.’s elimination from playoff contention.
Given that this group came into the year with championship aspirations, their ultimate flameout has led to a lot of introspection and confusion about how it all went so wrong.
One key mistake by the Lakers was acquiring Russell Westbrook over the offseason when DeMar DeRozan was interested in coming. LeBron James deserves most of the blame for that error in judgement.
But not all of it.
During a recent episode of The Hoop Collective, ESPN NBA insider Brian Windhorst revealed that San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich also had a role in sabotaging DeRozan heading home to LA.
“From what I am told, San Antonio was interested in making a deal,” Windhorst said.
“But what they wanted and what the Lakers may have wanted may not have — it never got to that point. As you know, Pop doesn’t like the Lakers. I don’t think he was going to make it easy. But I do think San Antonio would have done business.”
Fellow ESPN insider, Bobby Marks, echoed that sentiment.
“I have a hard time believing that San Antonio was going to cooperate with the Lakers on a sign-and-trade,” Marks added.
This certainly wouldn’t be the first time Popovich meddled in the Lakers’ affairs. Back in 2019, Stephen A. Smith reported that the Spurs coach told then-New Orleans Pelicans GM Dell Demps (who played with the Spurs in 1995-96 and later served as vice president of basketball operations) not to trade Anthony Davis to L.A.
“I’ve been told that one of the people that Dell Demps has communicated with is Gregg Popovich,” Smith reported at the time. “Not for trade talks or anything but a guy like Gregg Popovich has said, ‘Don’t cave to the Los Angeles Lakers. Don’t think for one second you have to be compelled to move Anthony Davis now. You can wait.’ And that’s what he’s been telling Dell Demps.'”
Popovich also famously berated the league for permitting the Lakers to acquire Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies in 2008, before later backing off and admitting he was wrong and the trade worked out well for both sides.
DeRozan has spoken openly over the past few months about how much he wanted to join the Lakers and the shady way everyone involved prevented that from happening.
It’s hard not to think about how things could have ended up differently had Los Angeles gotten DeRozan instead of Westbrook.
— Game 7 (@game7__) April 7, 2022
Things could’ve been a lot simpler with DeRozan in purple and gold, doing for the Lakers what he has been doing for the Chicago Bulls all year.
Alas, it didn’t work out.
With his career winding down, Popovich may no longer be the championship-contending coach he once was, but clearly he is still great at one thing: screwing the Lakers when given the opportunity.