By Frank McLean
You figure DeMarre Carroll had December 2nd circled on his calendar.
That’s the night the NBA schedule maker has the Toronto Raptors taking on the Hawks in Atlanta, where Carroll spent the last 2-seasons before signing a 4-year 60-million dollar free agent deal with the Raptors this past summer.
Talking at practice Tuesday before the Raptors headed to the airport for their flight to Atlanta for Wednesday night’s game with the Hawks, Carroll said he just wants to get a win and get back to Toronto.
“Atlanta gave me a great opportunity to be where I’m at now,” Carroll said. “They (the Hawks) gave me the opportunity to expand on my game and show everybody how I play. So, I think it’s a great feeling just going in there.”
“I’m a competitor, and it’s just another game for me,” Carroll added. “Once you get caught up in all that emotional stuff, I just want to go in there man, and play like it’s another road game. I’m sure it’s going to be a great atmosphere and I’m sure it’s going to be a great game”.
Last year the Hawks had as loaded a starting-five as anyone in the Eastern Conference with Carroll at small forward along with Al Horford, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver and Jeff Teague.
But when you are in a league with a salary cap and luxury tax, there comes a time when you realize you can’t keep everybody, so Carroll became the odd man out in Atlanta.
Millsap was the player the Hawks made a big priority to keep and he has been one of the best players in the league during the first month of the season, so you can’t argue with their logic. Meanwhile Carroll was the main piece in GM Masai Ujiri’s rebuild of the Raptors this past off season.
Ujiri was waiting at Carroll’s door as the clock struck midnight on July 1st to make sure they got their man before any of the other 29-teams got to him first. Carroll and his family just got back from a holiday in Aruba when Ujiri and his friends were waiting for him. After a night’s sleep the Raptors were first up with their pitch and they got their man.
“When I say they blew me away, they came in and they was real,” Carroll said when he was introduced to the media in early July. “In the NBA, you can get so many teams and so many GM’s and coaches come in and tell you things that really don’t come true. But they came in, they was real with me, they told me what they thought of me, what they was thinking of me, and there wasn’t anything outrageous, like me being the next LeBron James or me being the next Kevin Durant. It was just me coming in being the junkyard dog, being a blue-collar guy and just coming in to help this team.”
And that’s what Carroll has brought to the Raptors. His blue collar work ethic was a major factor in him keeping LeBron James in check in their win over the Cavaliers last week. It’s the type of player the Raptors have been lacking for a long time and you know head coach Dwane Casey is glad to have him.
“I’m not in (the Hawks) locker room,” Casey said Tuesday, “I don’t know how they miss him, if they do miss him or whatever, they’re still a very talented team, top-to-bottom.”
“We’re glad we have DeMarre Carroll.”
So don’t believe Carroll when he says it’s just another game. Deep down you know he wants to show Atlanta they made a mistake in letting him go, that’s just human nature. It will be interesting to see what numbers he puts up on the stats sheet when these two teams face off Wednesday night.
Veteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.