DeRozan sends strong message during Bulls' sweep of LA teams

DeMar DeRozan thought he was headed to the Lakers last summer in a sign-and-trade. Alex Caruso was willing to give the Lakers a hometown discount to re-sign him.

Neither transaction panned out, both players ended up on the Bulls and the alternate path has been fruitful.

The Bulls completed a Los Angeles sweep by rolling over the Lakers 121-103 on Monday night, one day after beating the Clippers 100-90. Their five-game West Coast trip continues Wednesday in Portland.

The LA sweep suggested a couple of things: DeRozan has more left in the tank than anyone thought, and the Bulls' relative lack of size has been more of a problem for opponents.

The Compton, Calif., native scored 35 and 38 points in the two hometown games, then woke up Tuesday morning as the NBA's No. 3 scorer at 26.9 ppg, trailing Kevin Durant and Steph Curry.

"I think he's playing with a chip on his shoulder," Bulls teammate Lonzo Ball said. "I think a lot of people kind of counted him out, saying he was on the back end of his career.

"I don't know how he got kind of lost in the shuffle in San Antonio, but he's one of the best players in this game and I think he's going out and proving it."

Here's one way to look at it: After a long career in Toronto, DeRozan was traded to San Antonio for Kawhi Leonard in 2018. The Raptors correctly predicted Leonard could lead them to an NBA title.

Maybe this time DeRozan is Leonard, the sort of talented veteran who can push a team to a higher level. Maybe a better comparison is Chris Paul, who joined Phoenix and guided a young team all the way to the NBA Finals last year.

"People saying I was washed for the last few years; the narrative, 'won't fit' - I can find all kind of chips that I use as my motivation," DeRozan said after Monday's game. "The hours I put in in the offseason, being counted out, being looked over.

"I just want to be a winner and just want to enjoy this ride. We can't play this game forever, so I want to get as much as I can out of it. That's just competing, winning and having fun."

DeRozan said in an interview with he thought a sign-and-trade to Los Angeles was going to happen, but the Lakers switched targets when Russell Westbrook became available.

Caruso went on the J.J. Redick podcast and said he was willing to work with the Lakers on a new contract. Even after hearing the Bulls' offer, Caruso said he gave the Lakers a chance to match it or at least come close and the team declined.

So now Caruso is sparking the surprisingly successful Bulls defense, which ranks fourth in points allowed and fifth in defensive rating. DeRozan made a career prediction for Caruso on Monday.

"Alex will definitely be a head coach in the NBA after he's finished playing," DeRozan said. "You would think he's been in the league 15 years the way he speaks about the game, gives advice. He's kind of the loudest voice in the locker room a lot of times, especially in film.

"And that's big, especially for a young player. He's not that young (27), but he's very experienced. You would think he'd been around the game for a long time."

After a blowout loss in Golden State to open the trip, Bulls coach Billy Donovan moved Caruso into the starting lineup. He's essentially playing power forward at 6-5, but the Bulls have thrived by creating pressure with their defense. Caruso is tied for second in the league in steals, while Ball ranks 12th.

Lakers star Anthony Davis scored 20 points Monday before being ejected for getting his second technical foul. The Bulls used a mix of Tony Bradley, Derrick Jones Jr., and Ball to guard Davis.

"We're a lot quicker than a lot of teams," Ball said. "We use our hands to help us get steals and deflections and get out on the break.

"I think we are one of the top teams in the NBA. Obviously, we've still got a long way to go, a lot to improve on, but we're moving in the right direction."

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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