DeMar DeRozan won’t lie: even a week later, he’s still “in shock” over the trade that sent him from the Toronto Raptors, the team that drafted him and for whom he starred for nine seasons, to the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for Kawhi Leonard.
DeRozan made it clear on social media on the morning of the deal that he felt blindsided by Raptors president Masai Ujiri deciding to package him with young center Jakob Poeltl and a top-20-protected 2019 first-round draft pick in a deal for Leonard. The two-time Defensive Player of the Year and All-NBA First Team selection missed all but nine games last season dealing with a right quadriceps injury, but, when healthy, could be the kind of player who can lift the Raptors over the postseason hurdles that have tripped up the DeRozan-led core over the past few seasons.
On Tuesday night, in a sit-down interview with ESPN’s Chris Haynes that represented his first public comments since the trade, DeRozan offered more insight into his displeasure with how the trade went down, and why he’ll head into his first year in San Antonio with “the biggest chip on his shoulder ever.”
DeMar DeRozan thinks Masai Ujiri’s comments were ‘B.S.’
Post-trade reports quickly indicated that DeRozan, who evidently wanted nothing more than to be a Raptor for life, felt he’d been misled, if not outright lied to, by Ujiri about whether or not he’d be dealt — that he’d been “told one thing” during a meeting at Las Vegas Summer League only to find out days later that “the outcome [was] another.” In a press conference last week, Ujiri publicly apologized to DeRozan for what he called a “gap of miscommunication” in their Vegas discussion, saying that he believed he erred in speaking to the four-time All-Star shooting guard about “what [the Raptors] expected going forward from him […] because in my job I always have to assume that I’m going forward with the team that I have.” When closing the Leonard deal became a real possibility, though, Ujiri said he “had to react.”
“I hate to be defensive here,” said Ujiri, “but I can also say when I came [to the Raptors in 2013], I gave [the existing core] a chance. I could have done anything I wanted. I could have traded players. We kept giving them a chance and giving them a chance. At some point, we have to do something different.”
“Different,” in this case, meant firing head coach Dwane Casey after another four-game sweep at the hands of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, promoting assistant Nick Nurse, and trading perhaps the greatest Raptor ever for a player who might not really want to be in Toronto and could bolt in a year.
DeRozan told Haynes he didn’t appreciate Ujiri framing the Raptors’ revamping as a referendum on himself and Casey:
I mean, when you say “them,” that’s kind of frustrating. Like, who is “them”? You put the blame on just me and Casey? Because obviously we are the only two who had to suffer from the loss that we had in the Cleveland series. But it’s only one team that we lost to in the postseason — and that team went to the [NBA] Finals every single year. With an opportunity approaching itself, my mindset and the rest of my teammates’ mindset was the only guy who was in the way of making that happen leaves. Now we got a great opportunity to do something that we haven’t been able to do.
At the end of the day, I gave everything I had to that team. And it showed, it showed in the progress we made as a team and me as an individual. So when you put that out there saying “gave them chances” and “I have to do something” … it’s B.S. to me.
DeRozan: Raptors didn’t treat me ‘with the respect that I thought I deserved
And what Ujiri termed a “gap in communication,” DeRozan still views as intentional misdirection that wasn’t befitting a player of his stature within the Raptors’ organization, and that hurt all the more coming from an executive with whom he felt he’d developed a close relationship:
I mean, when you use the word “family,” “brother” or whatever, things other people use lightly … for me, once you use that term, I stick by that term. I stand by that term. So whether it’s something I like or don’t like, I’m going to accept it if you come to me and let me know beforehand. But don’t make one thing seem like another thing and catch me off-guard and do something else. That was my whole problem.
I understand how the game works, how the business works. My mindset was that I was always going to be in Toronto my whole career, but I was never naive. Just let me know. That’s where my frustration came from. And I think it showed. From the fans to even myself — it just caught me completely off-guard. […]
I felt like I wasn’t treated with what I sacrificed for nine years, with the respect that I thought I deserved. By just giving me the say so of letting me know something’s going on or it’s a chance. That’s all I wanted. That’s all I wanted. I’m not saying, ‘You don’t have to trade me’ or … just let me know something is going on because I sacrificed everything. Just let me know. That’s all I asked. Everybody know I’m the most low-maintenance person in the world. Just let me know, so I can prepare myself for whatever my next chapter is, and I didn’t get that.
DeRozan plans to make next season ‘hell for a lot of people’
Now, with a week to digest the trade and begin the process of moving on, DeRozan turns his attention to fitting into a new team helmed by legendary coach Gregg Popovich, and figuring out how to use the offensive talents that have made him a two-time All-NBA selection to augment a San Antonio team that won 47 games largely without Leonard last year to extend the franchise’s remarkable streak of postseason appearances to 21 straight seasons. DeRozan told Haynes he’s excited for the opportunity to play for Popovich, whom Casey told the star guard post-trade that he was going to love, and that he plans to approach the rest of his preparation for September’s training camp and the season ahead with a singular focus in mind:
This time around, I think it’s going to be hell for a lot of people. No question. […] Just this whole transition of making this move, it kind of makes you look back at your career in the sense of what points you could’ve been better at, how you could have been better at it, the success that you had, the failures that you had. And you kind of accumulate all that into a ball of motivation and hunger and kind of frustration, on top of this situation happening. I’m going to start from the bottom, to show why I’ve been the player I’ve been, but this time, with a whole different level of “I don’t care about nothing else.” […]
CH: What are the Spurs getting in a player of DeMar DeRozan’s caliber?
DD: A guy that’s been proven to prove himself time and time again — this time around having the biggest chip on his shoulder ever.
Both DeRozan and the Spurs face plenty of questions heading into next season. It remains to be seen how DeRozan’s defensively iffy game will fit into a San Antonio side that slogged to 47 wins last season largely by virtue of a lockdown defense, and how his inside-the-arc approach will mesh with the similarly midrange-heavy LaMarcus Aldridge on an offense that could wind up going from congested to gridlocked. Most of all, opinions certainly differ on whether making a play for a present-day All-Star-caliber scorer rather than entertaining more future-focused trade packages was really the wisest course of action for a Spurs team that could still find itself in a dogfight for a playoff berth in what promises to be a brutal Western Conference next season.
What’s not in question, though: that Pop, R.C. Buford and Spurs fans will be getting an extremely motivated version of DeRozan, hell-bent on proving that he’s nobody’s consolation prize, and that those who think they’ve got the limits of his potential pegged haven’t seen anything yet.
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