When DeMar DeRozan spurned his hometown of Los Angeles and his favorite team the Lakers, when he rejected his hero/mentor Kobe Bryant and re-upped with the Toronto Raptors, he said it was because in Los Angeles he would never be in their lengthy record book. A legendary franchise with extraordinary players, the Lakers have an exclusive history that would only remember DeMar DeRozan as very good. But in Toronto, a place he yearned to be for the rest of his career, he could set records, franchise marks, have a jersey retired, maybe even a statue. He could take the Raptors places they had never been. He could matter as their superstar.
It was romantic and beautiful and filled with emotion, the DeMar DeRozan dream. But that kind of thinking is when you know players are in trouble. They forget the small detail, the fine print. The NBA is a business run by billionaires. The billionaires became financially resourced because of white privilege, education, family, intelligence, hard work and attention to profits.
Because DeRozan didn’t necessarily see himself caught up in the capitalism crosshairs, he is a little bit bummed he has been traded to the Spurs once the paperwork gets done and the i’s are dotted and the t’s crossed and all things become official. His Toronto Raptor history is well, history.
DeRozan was a lottery pick in the Steph Curry draft, selected 9th. (Curry was drafted 7th). His rookie year was uneventful but after that he turned the corner. 17 points, then 22 points three seasons later. 27 points in 2016-17 and 23 points last season. He’s an All-Star, the best shooting guard after Klay Thompson and James Harden. But he has his flaws. He can’t shoot the three ball. He’s a ball stopper. And he falls apart in the playoffs. His mental toughness is a continuing question mark. His defense is average. His best defensive rating was three seasons ago, 108. Because he’s an iso player, he ruins the crisp ball movement that Gregg Popovich lives by.
But DeRozan doesn’t care about the Spurs right now. He was promised by the Raptors he wouldn’t be traded and he was. The way he sees it, he was lied to. But the way it really is, that kind of lie is a business lie that is pretty standard and cut and dry in the NBA and frankly most businesses. Go into the boss’ office and ask if you are part of the layoffs. He says no. Then two weeks later, you are part of the layoffs.
It’s not a real good look for Masai Ujiri that he lied to DeRozan. The modern athlete wants to be able to trust the front office. It’s hard enough to get players to want to play in Canada. Ujiri’s credibility took a big sucker punch to the face. When he has to pitch free agents on Toronto, like when Kawhi walks out of Toronto and into Doc Rivers lap, how is he going to spin his “lie”?
But for the here and now Ujiri acted like a businessman and not a confidant nor a loyalist. He did what he had to do to get what he had to get.
DeRozan lost sight of time and place. He assumed that he makes $26 million per year and that was some kind of antidote to NBA drama. But everyone can be traded, everyone. DeRozan was never able to carry the Raptors to the Finals so he was expendable. He didn’t matter when a better player came along.
He’s unhappy. Kawhi is unhappy. LeBron is happy. Welcome to 2018-19.