Last summer’s trade which sent DeMar DeRozan to the San Antonio Spurs didn’t exactly wow the Western Conference with greatness. Yes, the Spurs made the playoffs but it was more ceremonial than impactful. They forced a Game 7 in their first round series but were flattened by a Denver Nuggets team that was younger, more skilled, and had better players.
During his first year in San Antonio, DeRozan posted career low numbers. With the Spurs, he was a good player but without a dominant backcourt guard to play off of, he was a little bit more than a serviceable 2 guard buried in a sea of mediocrity. Gregg Popovich coaching DeMar was a bonus though. and will be a benefit to DeRozan down the line, but outside of that neither DeMar nor the Spurs prospered.
The problem is you can’t build around DeMar. He’s cannot be the face of a franchise because he doesn’t win games for you. He can score. He can put the ball in the hole. He keeps the defense honest because you have to pay attention to him but he is a second or third option. He’s not a playmaker, doesn’t move the ball particularly well, isn’t a rebounding guard. He fits within the Spurs system pretty well but he doesn’t elevate their system or push them higher. The DeMar DeRozan dividends are so-so.
At the end of this upcoming season, DeRozan has an opt-out and no one would be surprised if he opted-out and found himself back in Toronto, or in Los Angeles. The problem with DeRozan staying in San Antonio is that they are still on the hunt for an All-Star to carry them. LaMarcus Aldridge isn’t that guy. He’s good enough, and here and there checks all the boxes, but Aldridge isn’t a star. He’s a complimentary player. Aldridge’s contract is partially guaranteed for the 2020-21 season.
DeRozan, at this point in his career, wants to win, particularly after the Raptors won without him. He has something to prove. But realistically, who is going to pay DeMar $27 million? It makes the best business sense for him to stay in San Antonio before he bolts somewhere else. He is not a $27 million dollar player. But it makes the best basketball sense to leave. Which impulse wins?
Complicated everything is that DeMar DeRozan’s game is in a time warp. He is a shooting guard who cannot shoot threes. In this era, it makes DeRozan invisible and a player with a huge hole in his game. He’s a great mid-range shot maker but the mid-range is disappearing as an offensive weapon. The mid-range works when you don’t have a steady diet of it and if you want to take advantage of spacing. It is kind of crafty, The issue is that the midrange is a defendable shot if you’re not Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan or Kevin Durant.
The best thing about DeRozan is that he knows who he is even if he doesn’t quite know his role. In the waning days of the Raptors, he was given the title of best player and everything revolved around him. It didn’t create damage in the regular season but in the postseason he could not deliver. In San Antonio, that mantle was taken away from him and he was back to who he used to be but it had very little meaning. In the elimination game against the Nuggets he shot 33% and didn’t take a three. Even though his 8 rebounds and 6 assists mattered, the Spurs needed DeRozan the scorer. He just doesn’t perform well under pressure.
NBA history has shown that players in a contract year are more selfish than not. They are trying to put up numbers to justify a big payday. It ruins team chemistry when they have one foot in and one foot out. Kyrie Irving comes to mind. DeRozan doesn’t have a selfish history so he won’t Kyrie the Spurs but the question of what is next is going to dog him. The Spurs need great chemistry to even get a 7th seed. They don’t need a disappearing DeMar.
He’s never been here, in this exact place. The last time he was a free agent he knew the future. The Raptors were determined to max him out. But in 2019-20 everything is up in the air for DeRozan. He is still being asking to sacrifice and show leadership intangibles.
Next season, DeMar DeRozan will be 31. More than likely, he will sign his last big contract. The Spurs want less focus on next summer and more on the right now. But DeMar DeRozan already did the loyalty thing and look what happened.
No one was loyal to him.