One week ago today, the San Antonio Spurs finally parted with disgruntled All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard by sending him (and guard Danny Green) to the Toronto Raptors. In return, the Raptors dealt All-Star guard and franchise icon DeMar DeRozan (along with center Jakob Poletl and a future first-round pick) to the Spurs.
The move sent shockwaves throughout the NBA -- in part because San Antonio had finally pulled off the trade and also because Toronto had dealt the player most associated with their recent run of success. It was, if nothing else, a bold move by Raptors GM Masai Ujiri as the team is betting it can sway Leonard to stay with the team long term after the 2018-19 season.
For DeRozan, the Raptors' all-time leader in points scored, games played and more, the trade was something of a shock. Seven days after the deal took place, DeRozan is still trying to make sense of the move. He had some pointed thoughts about what happened leading up to the trade, as well as about Ujiri's dealings with him about trade discussions.
In an interview with ESPN's Chris Haynes, DeRozan opened up about a conversation he and Ujiri had at NBA Summer League -- one in which DeRozan says he was told he wouldn't be dealt. Here's more from Haynes:
CH: It caught a lot of people off-guard. Looked like it caught you off-guard as well. Masai Ujiri, the Raptors GM, came out in a news conference and said it was a gap in communication: that he spoke with you during summer league in Las Vegas and thinks his mistake was talking to you about what to expect moving forward with the organization. From your standpoint, is that an accurate assessment of that conversation?
DD: Um, no, because all summer through the talks we had -- through the talks he had with my agent -- you know, it seemed like I was in that discussion of moving forward with the team. My whole approach every summer was preparing, going out there and supporting the young guys at summer league, figuring out ways I can be better, make my team better, and that was the gist of the conversations we had with moving forward. Having the opportunity to do something special all over again, you know? So that was my mindset and everybody around me's mindset as well.
CH: In that same news conference, he talked about how he gave the team a chance when he took his role. Do you think it was necessary for the organization to make that move and trade you? Why didn't things work out?
DD: I mean, when you say "them," that's kind of frustrating. Like, who is "them"? You put the blame on just me and Casey? Because obviously we are the only two who had to suffer from the loss that we had in the Cleveland series. But it's only one team that we lost to in the postseason -- and that team went to the [NBA] Finals every single year. With an opportunity approaching itself, my mindset and the rest of my teammates' mindset was the only guy who was in the way of making that happen leaves. Now we got a great opportunity to do something that we haven't been able to do. At the end of the day, I gave everything I had to that team. And it showed, it showed in the progress we made as a team and me as an individual. So when you put that out there saying "gave them chances" and "I have to do something" ... it's B.S. to me.
CH: Did you ask if you were going to be traded?
DD: I asked, 'Was I going to be traded? Was there anything going on, if it was a chance I'd be traded?' And on multiple occasions it was, 'No, it was nothing.' If it is, then let the agent know or me know.
CH: What were your emotions when you first heard?
DD: Man, I was really stuck. I couldn't think for a second because it just didn't feel real. I didn't have no indication like it would be something else. If I knew that, I wouldn't have reacted the way I did. I would have been prepared for it. But it caught me completely off-guard because I'm thinking this is another summer. Move forward. I talked to my teammates every single day how we can get better. So to hit me with that at midnight out the blue, like, c'mon. Two days prior, it was asked, 'Is anything going on?' If it is, just let me know because the rumors keep coming up. Two days later, you're going here.
Last Friday, Ujiri addressed the media about the trade and said he knew he was taking a risk by dealing DeRozan for Leonard. At the same time, Ujiri said he felt a move was necessary to try and move the Raptors up in the Eastern Conference hierarchy.
"On paper we feel we have a team that can compete in the East and hopefully to compete for a championship in this league. That's why we play sports, is to compete for championships," Ujiri said. “We have been doing this for how many years? You can’t keep doing the same thing over and over.
"At this point, we got to the level where this opportunity came to us, and we had to jump on it.”
As word of the trade circulated the NBA social media atmosphere on Wednesday, DeRozan took to Instagram and posted a story there that read: "Be told one thing & the outcome another. Ain't no loyalty in this game. Sell you out for a quick bit of nothing ... Soon you'll understand ... Don't disturb."
* Aldridge: Trade seems to please neither player
Ujiri on last Friday said he will do "anything in his power" to honor DeRozan in the future.
In his conversation with Haynes, DeRozan says he made a decision early on to stick with the Raptors as long as they'd have him.
CH: Vince Carter. Tracy McGrady. Chris Bosh. The list goes on. But when people think about "Mr. Raptor," you're the name that pops up. Did you envision a scenario in which this could happen?
DD: To be honest with you, no. No. I was so mentally in this being my home. I took pride in the community. I took pride in everything when it came to Canada. Not even just Toronto, everything that came with Canada, wearing that Toronto Raptors jersey. That's why it was so tough and emotional for me when I first heard it because everybody knows what type of guy I am. It showed when I went out there and played. Whether it was for the good or for the bad, I took it like a man.
As for the move to the Spurs, DeRozan tells ESPN that he's still in "shock" about the trade. However, reuniting with former Raptors teammate Rudy Gay in San Antonio may help with DeRozan's adjustment period to a new squad.
DD: I'm still in shock. Second person I talked to that night, that I'm close friends with, was Rudy Gay. I was upset. And I called him, like, 'Man, dude's just traded me.' Rudy was like, 'What? To who?' And I was like, 'To y'all.' He started laughing. He said, 'Look, I don't mean to lie, but I got my boy back. You gon' be aight, man. Don't worry about it.' I was like, 'Man, I shouldn't have called you. I should have waited until it came out and you called me.' It was cool to be able to call somebody that's close in my life that's on the Spurs too. So he made it easy.
CH: There's going to be another transition: playing for Coach Casey and going to play for Coach Pop. I know you're going to Team USA, to minicamp, and Coach Pop is coaching that. What are your expectations playing for Coach Pop?
DD: I've always been a fan of Pop. There was just something about him from the way he ran his team, the way he coached, his credibility. Everything that stands out about Pop, you just have to love. So to have this opportunity to play with a legendary coach at this point in my career, I think it's one of those blessings that's in disguise because this is a cool moment to be with a guy like that. I've been with Case for the majority of my career. He gave me the ultimate freedom to be myself. First thing Case said to me when the move was made is I'm going to love Pop. To hear that from my coach, on the transition to my new coach, just makes it easy.
DeRozan had spent his entire career with the Raptors (2010-18), emerging as one of the top guards in the Eastern Conference. Since making his first of his four career All-Star berths in 2013-14, DeRozan has averaged 23.4 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game in that span. He was named to the All-NBA second team this season and was All-NBA third team in 2016-17.
Last season, he averaged 23.4 ppg while improving a key facet of his game by hitting a career-high 89 3-pointers. He has three years and and $83 million left on his contract, including an Early Termination Option for the 2020-21 season.
The Raptors went through a series of changes in the offseason after they were swept in the Eastern Conference semifnials by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Coach Dwane Casey -- the NBA's Coach of the Year -- was fired days after that playoff exitand was eventually replaced by Raptors assistant coach Nick Nurse.
As the Raptors and DeRozan face new paths in the 2018-19 season, the former Toronto star says he is driven anew to succeed while also cherishing the memories he has from playing in Canada.
DD: Just this whole transition of making this move, it kind of makes you look back at your career in the sense of what points you could've been better at, how you could have been better at it, the success that you had, the failures that you had. And you kind of accumulate all that into a ball of motivation and hunger and kind of frustration, on top of this situation happening. I'm going to start from the bottom, to show why I've been the player I've been, but this time, with a whole different level of "I don't care about nothing else."
CH: What will you most remember about your time as a Toronto Raptor?
DD: What I'll most remember? It's so hard to say one particular moment because I can name a million things. From the fans to All-Star [Game] being there to making the playoffs to seeing Jurassic Park for the first time. It's something I'll never forget, and without a doubt, it's no replacing Toronto in my heart and my mindset. Because like I said, I put it all and laid it all out there. And, you know, just to see people talk about, even just mentioning me as the greatest player in Raptors history? Come on, man, that's an honor. I'm 28 years old, and you're putting me in that category? It's amazing.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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