You listen to DeMar DeRozan, especially about basketball as media did Friday when the new free agent acquisition was introduced by the Bulls, and you feel better. It's something of a vibe, that he's seen it before, been there, done that. You know, we got this.
Like all those questions that DeRozan at 32 is too old, that in this modern NBA analyticsosphere he's not the right guy with all those two-point shots, that it's not the right fit with scoring star Zach LaVine and 20/10 big man Nikola Vucevic. Even though DeRozan played with Vucevic in college.
DeRozan sighs the weary sigh of those who know. They'll get it done.
"It's basketball," DeRozan said with a shrug. "Lot of people I see criticizing, talking about 'fit this, fit that' have probably never even played basketball. Being a basketball player, you go out, play at the park. Some of your best is against guys you don't even know that you go out there and compete with. But for me, if everybody is on the same page mentality and wants to win, it don't matter about a fit. Because it's all gonna come together how it needs to come together and make it work because at the end of the day the common denominator is winning. If you have that mentality going into it, everything will figure out how it needs to be figured out in the process, and that's where chemistry is built. I never really get caught up in all this stuff about, 'Oh, this fit. This, this, this.' End of the day, you bring that mentality of winning and everything gonna come together how it need to come together."
That's about as eloquent as it gets for sporting success. They're good, they're motivated and they'll figure it out.
DeMar DeRozan's full introductory media call.
The beneficiary should be the Bulls with what was technically a sign-and-trade agreement to acquire one of the top free agents of this 2021 class, the four-time All-Star, two-time All-NBA player and twice gold medal winner with USA Basketball. The 12-year NBA veteran with a career average of 20.1 points per game and more than 23 per game the last six years with more than 50 playoff games in his experience brings to the Bulls not only scoring, playmaking (averaging more than six assists the last three seasons) and big game abilities like his 52 pointer against the Bucks a few years back.
More significantly, DeRozan's presence represents sort of a wink and a nod of the head for the Bulls toward the rest of the NBA. They're not kidding around anymore.
Their core with DeRozan, Vucevic and Zach LaVine is a trio of All-Stars with DeRozan and LaVine having won gold medals for the U.S. You get next to the best and help them win. It separates you even if you don't say it.
"First and foremost," said DeRozan about playing for USA Basketball in the Olympics, "just being around the greatest players in the world, being amongst the group of the greatest players in the world, the greatest minds, the greatest coaches, it does something unconsciously to you that gives you the ultimate confidence, the ultimate work ethic, makes you realize that you belong in the elite category of guys. And that carries over to the season. You see you're next to a Kevin Durant every single day, a Damian Lillard every single day. You see their work ethic, the way they approach the game, the winning mentality that they have and what it feels like to win. And something like that carries over whether you realize it or not. It goes a long way."
In other words, it's no longer a load management day to play the Bulls. Be ready; because their guys have been there and done that. And they want more; none among DeRozan, LaVine and Vucevic have tried on that end of season jewelry yet.
"Every guy when I look at that (Bulls) roster has a chip on their shoulders," DeRozan said. "Me knowing Vooch since college (when he also played with former Bull Taj Gibson and for former Bulls coach Tim Floyd), I know what type of player he is, how bad he wants to win. Zach wanting to be on that main stage and wanting to compete for something much more than just stats during the season."
In fact, DeRozan had special praise for LaVine, also an Olympic gold medalist, saying he wanted to be with players like that.
"You always look, and always wonder: 'If I play with this guy, how would this work?' You see the work ethic that a player like Zach puts in. So even throughout the season, the things that he was doing, pushing a team, leading a team to try to get them to where they was going. It just sucks that Covid hit; you didn't really get a chance to see what he could have did toward the end of the season with the Bulls," said DeRozan. "I always try to put myself next to players like that. Watching guys like Zach, you see them put in the work, how bad they want to win, and it's just not about highlights and All-Stars; it's much bigger than that. Before I even had a conversation with him made it appealing to want to play with him. And talking to him made it even more enticing. And, obviously, see him be a part of the USA Team, I know what that process was like, and I know coming out of that process, what it does for players. Made it even more appealing.
"And Lonzo (Ball) putting all those mentalities together," noted DeRozan. "Since he's been in the league, it seemed like he hasn't really been let free to be the player that I believe he is. Even (Lakers free agent Alex) Caruso coming from a winning program. It's so much there that could bring so much potential. It was just something that was appealing to me that I wanted to be a part of, let alone it being in Chicago, one of the greatest cities in the NBA.
"Since I've been in the league, I've had motivation after motivation, critic, doubters, naysayers," DeRozan continued. "As a competitor, you definitely feed off it. I definitely hear it. My whole motto my whole career is to be the person not to prove them wrong, but to prove myself right with my work ethic and the way to approach the game and the obstacles and everything that I've been through and just leave it out there all on the table. It's another challenge that I'm looking forward to, probably one of my biggest in my career. At the end of the day, I want to have the last laugh. I want to do it with a group of guys that kind of been through similar obstacles in their careers as well. It'll definitely be shown."
In his lone game against the Bulls last year, DeRozan scored 17 points on 7-of-14 shooting to go with seven assists and four steals.
Although the transaction for Ball drew the most notice, especially because of the Bulls often stated need for more help at point guard, the acquisition of the sweet shooting, high scoring DeRozan could be the biggest. DeRozan likely will start at small forward in an interchangeable rotation with LaVine at shooting guard, giving the Bulls the potential for one of the most productive offenses in the NBA. And especially at a time when the mid range shot seems to be returning to fashion with the success of the Suns with Chris Paul and Devin Booker and Khris Middleton successful two-point shooters in the NBA Finals.
That a talented player of DeRozan's level saw such promise with the Bulls is a credit to both LaVine and Vucevic, and the game plan of new management to enable the Bulls to so quickly go from development to aspirant.
"With Vooch being there, Zach, the organization, the city, the whole spectrum of the team and the organization for me. And obviously once Lonzo signed, that made it even more appealing," said DeRozan. "You could see what they were working toward, and it was something I wanted to be a part of. It wasn't too much of a pitch that they had to make after that. The Bulls, the history speaks for itself. They haven't had the best seasons the last few years. And kind of being a part of that and wanting to change it back around. Bring back that winning mentality. With those elements all mixing in one, it was hard to turn down."
Certainly finances played a part as they do for most everyone when they go job hunting. But DeRozan said the Bulls were always in his sights even as rumors during free agency had him linked to rejoining his longtime teammate in Toronto and close friend Kyle Lowry, who went to the Miami Heat, or going back home to Los Angeles at a discount to join the Lakers and LeBron James. After all, DeRozan has signed contracts in his career totaling close to $200 million. He could choose where he believed he'd be most comfortable and perhaps successful and which would equally motivate him.
"The most challenging part for me is probably getting back adapted to the cold weather," DeRozan joked after having played his first nine seasons in Toronto. Though DeRozan seemed to be preparing, wearing a blue knit stocking cap during his conversation with reporters.
"But other than that, me just going out there and wanting to get with those guys and understand that we can do something special here," DeRozan said. "Always my whole career, I've wanted to build things up and put them back in a successful position. For me coming in here with that chip on my shoulder, knowing that guys want to win that are there have a chip on their shoulders. Just putting all that together to make the right combination and go out there and be successful."
So how does someone have that "chip" on their shoulder, as it were, with all that success? Perhaps not having that ‘chip, as it's called, after DeRozan was traded to the Spurs for Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors went on to win their first championship. Which leaves DeRozan, one of the most popular players ever in Toronto, as greedy and ravenous for success as ever.
"Experience definitely is key, especially now and throughout the season, especially later in the season," said DeRozan. "It goes longer, further than a lot of people may realize. With the experience of the successes, the failures, everything that I went through, just understanding going into the season from Day 1 to the last day what it takes to really go over those humps, the tough days where stuff is going bad. When a game or two is off track, how to put things back in place, how to get guys back together."
And DeRozan perhaps embraces the reality of those struggles as much as any in becoming a role model for many athletes.
DeRozan three years ago was one of the first NBA players along with Kevin Love to address issues of depression and mental heath. His comments and leadership on the issue has enabled many players to face concerns that have especially tormented athletes because they were expected to "tough out" everything. You know, what's your problem with all that money? Which we all should know from myriad examples isn't even in the same conversation.
It's always a battle. The people who have been through that know. But the ones who face it, work at it and keep going are the ones who you want on your side. DeMar DeRozan is one of those people. And now he's a Bull.
"My mindset was always, ‘How can I make everybody around me better and use them?'" DeRozan said about his late career facilitator role. "I was always known as a scorer, but as I matured and understood the game a little bit more, I wanted to better the guys around me to make my job easier late in games. It was just a conscious effort of me just understanding, wanting to make the guys around me better, build their confidence. Because at the end of the day, I knew what I had to do to close out games and win games."
You know what, with the addition of someone like DeRozan they might have this after all.