Toronto Raptors All-Star wing DeMar DeRozan is about to hit unrestricted free agency for the first time in his NBA career and his timing couldn’t have been better. Second in Eastern Conference scoring at 23.5 points per game, averaging 20.9 playoff points per game in the Raptors first ever run to the Eastern Conference Finals including five games of 30 or more points. Then averaging 23 points per game in the Conference Finals against LeBron James and the Cavs.
The 26-year-old is about to get paid, but unfortunately for lottery teams like his hometown Lakers, DeRozan has been through the brutal dog days of rebuilding. After owning the Atlantic Division for three seasons and finally making it to the Conference Finals, winning has become very important and the pride of helping to create a winner is overwhelming.
“At this point in my career it is all about winning,” DeRozan said after the season ended. “It is the only thing that matters.
“For me to look back on everything, I remember when all the buildings downtown (in Toronto) wasn’t downtown, we got a new arena, there is just so much to look back on and so much to take in all at once now. I think throughout the summer, you really look back on things or you get asked about certain situations that happened during the season, you really start to realize – damn we really did something.
“We did something great and that can’t be overlooked and now we understand what we have to do to get back to this point and go beyond it.
“I was passionate about (Toronto) when we were losing, we were terrible I would say I would stick through this whole thing. I wanted to be that guy who would bring this organization to where it is now. I definitely don’t want to switch out after we win.”
DeRozan believes, with cause, that the Raptors are close to getting to the next level. His confidence in head coach Dwane Casey’s consistent message that he credits with getting the team here and president and general manager Masai Ujiri’s ability to find talent that fits the team culture and moves the organization closer to their ultimate goal is based on results, not promises, and that’s hard to shake.
“Team-wise, we’re not missing much,” DeRozan said. “We’re not missing much at all. We had to go thru an experience like this to realize how hard it is to get to this point and what we need to do to be better.
“You can see the passion that Masai has during off season, during the season, when it comes to us, when it comes to winning. It’s incredible when you that hunger and that passion from your own GM like he’s out there on the court with us. That’s big when you have that support system.”
The other hold the Raptors have on DeRozan is relationships. DeRozan has said before that his relationship with fellow All-Star Kyle Lowry is real, it was something that just happened naturally and he has always been positive about his teammates and the organization – even when they were losing.
“It’s amazing,” DeRozan said. “I think you guys could see it over the years we always had a great group of guys in this locker room. We never had no type of friction, everybody pulled for one another, cheer for one another, we did everything together. Whatever it may be, families, kids, playing with other player’s kids. It’s an amazing camaraderie that we had with teammates and it’s hard to find in this league.”
DeRozan doesn’t want to leave Toronto. He sees the value in playing for just one franchise for an entire career and the Raptors have made it easy for him to do so.
“It’s the most incredible thing you can do,” DeRozan said about playing his entire career in Toronto.
DeRozan still calls L.A. home, but he made his peace with not playing there professionally a long time ago. It wasn’t always obvious early on, but DeRozan has been a pro since he stepped into the NBA in 2009 and if anything, he’s a better pro today.
“I grew up in L.A., that’s my home, there’s not a part of L.A. I haven’t seen,” DeRozan said. “(However,) the only thing that is appealing to me is the things I’ve done in this organization (in Toronto) and the things that can be done here and that’s always been my mindset since I’ve been here.
“I remember choosing my college and I told myself I am going to stay home and go to USC because it’s a possibility if I go to the NBA this will be my last time playing at home. That was the reason for me to go to USC. I’m fine if this is my last stint at playing at home in front of my friends and family because at the end of the day after I’m finished playing I’m pretty sure I’ll be living in L.A. for the rest of my life anyway.
“Playing (in L.A.) again is something I’ve never thought about again. It isn’t something I’ve thought about now.
“My mindset has always been Toronto. I haven’t changed not one bit.”
The Raptors GM and DeRozan play coy when it comes to talking about the size of DeRozan’s new contract, but rest assured it’ll be massive. Ujiri can sign DeRozan to a max deal this summer and it will have absolutely zero impact on anything else he’s working on as the the cap hold for his All-Star is just a little over $15 million. It just has to be one of the last free agent deals Toronto does to get inked and with both sides wanting to get something done, this won’t be any harder to accomplish than re-upping coach Casey.