Catching up with Toronto Raptors’ legend DeMar DeRozan on and off the court

(Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images)
(Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images) /

DeMar DeRozan and the San Antonio Spurs play in Toronto for the first time since the big trade last summer. We catch up with how DeRozan has been doing on and off the court since his time as a Raptor.

This Friday, nearly seven months to the day that he was traded from the Toronto Raptors to the San Antonio Spurs, “Mr. Toronto”, DeMar DeRozan will make his return to the city that he played in for nine years.

The trade was described as stunning and franchise altering and sent shockwaves throughout the city. Questions about ‘loyalty’, ‘trust’ and ‘honesty’ filled sports radio and the sport talk shows.

The fanbase was understandably split, wondering if the gamble was worth it – giving up on one of the few guys who wanted to stay in Toronto for an entire career; a player often described as demonstrating integrity, work ethic, and character; a guy who wanted to own every franchise record –  all for a guy in Leonard who may bolt after one season.

Stunned and Blindsided

DeRozan, for his part, was “stunned and blindsided” by the move, calling out Toronto management for a lack of transparency and dishonesty.

"“Be told one thing & the outcome another,” DeRozan said in an Instagram story posted in the wee hours of Wednesday morning. “Can’t trust em. Ain’t no loyalty in this game. Sell you out quickly for a little bit of nothing.”"

As expected, DeRozan showed up in San Antonio with a chip on his shoulder, ready to prove a point to his former team, specifically the front office of Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster. Spurs coach Greg Popovich praised his new player and the mature approach he brought.

"“He’s a very mature young man,” Popovich said. “There’s no doubt he was hurt and a little bit angry. But anybody would be considering all the circumstances. He got over it the way each of us has to get over whatever might happen in our lives. Nobody walks through this life with no negative things happening to them. He understands that as well as anybody.”"

On the Court

DeMar DeRozan began the season on fire. He scored 25 points or more in nine of his first ten games and averaged six assists and five total rebounds in those games. By the end of December, he was averaging 22.9 points per game while shooting 47.7 percent from the field and 83.7 percent from the free-throw line.

He was being mentioned as a (very) early dark horse MVP candidate and was helping the Spurs to a 21-17 record in what was being described as a question mark of a season and possible ‘transitional year’ for the franchise.

Since then, he has slumped somewhat. His field goal percentage has dipped below 40 percent in nine games since January 1. There have been seven games in which he has scored 13 points or less. For a 20 ppg career scorer who averages over 46-percent from the field, these numbers were concerning for some Spurs fans.

Fatigue has been a likely culprit for the dip. Last season, DeRozan played between 30-39 minutes in 55 games. He played only five games of 40 minutes plus. This year? He’s already played 39 games between 30-39 minutes and is at six games played of 40 minutes or more. Through most of this season, he has been near the top of minutes played in the league, trailing only workhorse Bradley Beal (he now sits tenth in minutes played).


Then, the injury bug hit. Knee and ankle injuries have slowed DeRozan down, causing him to miss five games since January 18th. That’s three more games than he missed all of last season. In the midst of the slump, DeRozan stayed positive:

"“You would love to play 82 games straight perfect,” DeRozan said, “but you are going to have games in a row, whether it’s three, four, five, six games, where you kind of have them dog days, where you just got to figure it out. That’s where I’m at right now.”"

For a player who has logged heavy minutes throughout his career, including playing 77 or more games six times, including two seasons in which he played all 82 games and another when he logged 80, perhaps the wear and tear is catching up with DeRozan.

DeMar was left off the All-Star team for the first time since the 2012/13 season. Though the  Western Conference is loaded with an abundance of elite shooting guards, a case could be made that he was snubbed this year and should have been there.

Despite being left out of the mid-season celebration, his fellow players and coaches still view him as integral to their success.

"“It’s a long season, and you are going to have little rough patches,” Spurs guard Patty Mills said. “But (DeRozan) is doing way more for us than just scoring. He was huge (with five assists in the fourth quarter against Dallas), unreal.”"

Greg Popovich has looked at the other things DeRozan brings to the table, namely his passing and ability to get others involved.

"“I had no idea that was one of his skills,” Popovich said. “He’s been an All-Star and he can score, and we all know that. But I had no idea he was that skilled of a passer and really had a knack for it."

Off the Court

When DeRozan posted a cryptic message on Instagram last February, the world awoke to the demons he was struggling with.

His admission to the mental health issues he struggled with sparked a conversation across the NBA and the sports world. He and Kevin Love were some of the first in a league (that rarely discusses weakness) to open up about their challenges and how they have worked to deal with them.

Since being in San Antonio, DeRozan has continued to advocate and raise awareness for mental health. Recently, he partnered with the CBC and was profiled in their documentary show called Inside an Athlete’s Head. In it, he reveals some of his personal struggles and frustrations he has dealt with.

DeRozan also opens up about his feelings towards the trade. It is clear, he still holds some bitterness towards the trade and how it was handled.

"“You see people always question or throw hatred at a guy that makes a decision for him or his family. But when it happens to him in the other way, oh, it’s just business,” DeRozan said. “Because it’s business don’t mean the situation was handled right.”"

Interestingly, DeRozan recently shared his feelings with the San Antonio Express on the recent phenomenon of players dictating where they want to play through hold out and demanding trades, siding with such players as Anthony Davis and Kawhi Leonard,

"“We all have the right, and if you feel that way, if you are not comfortable, if you want to go somewhere else that you feel you will be better off being at, go for it,” DeRozan said. “I’m all for it. Nobody should feel enclosed to be at one place if they don’t feel like it. I don’t have a problem with it.”"

Ironic to say the least.

Return to Toronto

If the first game that the Raptors played against the Spurs back on January 3rd in San Antonio is any indication, DeMar is going to come out swinging. In that game, he posted his first career triple-double with 21 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists against the Raptors in the Spurs 125-107 win. He was every bit what we expected him to be.

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This time around, expect much of the same. The energy and emotion in the building is going to be electric. Expect a standing ovation from the Toronto faithful. Maybe two. Perhaps even a video tribute. But expect DeMar to match it; to come out and give it everything he has. This game has been circled for far too long. He played here for too long, invested too much.

Another game? Maybe. Just don’t tell DeMar that.