Last night ESPN released video and a transcript of an interview reporter Chris Haynes conducted with former Raptor DeMar DeRozan.
It’s no secret that DeRozan had been upset since last week’s trade went down, and the interview served as a window to where his head and his emotions have been.
Here’s a window to where my head and emotions are after watching it:
Putting the Blame on DeRozan and Dwane Casey
Early in the interview DeRozan bristles at something Masai Ujiri said in his press conference last week: That Ujiri gave the team chances, and that it was time for change. DeRozan seems to have taken that personally, and his feeling is that Ujiri was scapegoating him and Dwane Casey, as they’re the two that were moved.
I totally get DeRozan’s frustration and even in the moment last week, I felt that Ujiri went too far with that comment. I don’t disagree with the comment; I think Ujiri is correct. But I don’t think it came off very well. If I’m in DeMar’s shoes, I’m definitely taking that as a shot at me—that it’s my own fault I’m traded because I wasn’t good enough. Even though I’ve worked really hard and we had unprecedented success. So I don’t think that’s something Ujiri should have publicly said, even if it was accurate.
As for the other part of DeRozan’s response—about losing only to one team and one guy, a guy who’s no longer in their way—DeRozan is right about that, and I do have to admit I would have liked to have seen that Raptors team get a shot in a LeBron-less Eastern Conference. This season might have been their best chance, and I’ve absolutely got a sense of disappointment that we didn’t get to see that chance—and that we’ll never see that team together again.
Ujiri Didn’t Keep DeRozan Informed
DeRozan makes it clear that he was given assurances that, when he asked if a trade was imminent or that anything was going on, there was nothing going on. According to DeRozan, Ujiri specifically didn’t let him know a trade was coming. (It was made very clear DeRozan’s issues were with Ujiri alone, not ownership or the franchise.)
We don’t know Ujiri’s side, but let’s give DeRozan the benefit of the doubt here and say that’s true, that he was told nothing.
The question then becomes, how much responsibility did Ujiri have to keep DeRozan informed?
On the human side of things, yes, of course, Ujiri should have been completely open. Especially if, as DeRozan says, Ujiri uses words like “brother” and “family” when describing his relationship to the players. If you’re gonna treat it like a business, treat it like a business; you can’t really have it both ways. I would be hurt by that as well, as anyone would be.
But on the other hand... strictly from the objective business side... I can 100% see why Ujiri might not have told DeRozan anything. Not that Ujiri would have lied, per se, but that he would have kept his mouth shut and intentionally kept DeRozan in the dark.
Imagine if Ujiri told DeRozan that the trade was coming, that it was imminent, and DeRozan started making noise that he didn’t want to be traded to San Antonio? Say DeRozan calls up his pal Chris Haynes and says, “I don’t want to play for San Antonio, I’ll look at my options, I might sit out, or I’ll ask to be traded again right away.” What then? Ujiri is screwed then. Because San Antonio will either back out of the deal or ask for more, as a form of insurance against an unhappy DeRozan. Maybe that insurance is OG Anunoby and Delon Wright.
Then the trade doesn’t look so hot, does it? And Ujiri has lost all his leverage—he can’t walk away now, because he can’t bring back DeRozan after nearly trading him.
It was cold, but I think it probably had to be.
(Also: How “caught off-guard” could DeRozan have been? Rumours had been swirling for weeks. Dude was in Vegas when the Vegas odds had the Raptors being the best bet as Kawhi’s landing spot. I know nothing’s real until it’s real, but saying he didn’t have a chance to prepare for the next chapter... that rings a bit hollow.)
Dan covered it in his initial write-up of Haynes’ interview, but I too feel DeRozan might want to pull back on the whole “sacrifice” thing. Yeah, he worked his butt off, but he got paid fairly by the Raptors, and he had the power—twice—to take his talents elsewhere if he wanted. I know DeMar had a tough year and I don’t want to diminish that, but he did his job and the Raptors paid him for it. There was a contract, both sides held up their end of the bargain. There’s really not much more to say than that.
Changing the Raptors Narrative
As a Raptors fan, the part that hurt most was hearing DeMar say he wanted to change the Raptors narrative from day one. That he knew about the stigma they had that good players never stick around, that it was his goal to be different, right from when he was drafted... damn.
That hurts, and it’s scary. DeRozan remains an outlier, to have stayed in Toronto as long as he did and to want to be here as much as he did. It’s scary to think we might never have another player want that, let alone one as good as DeMar DeRozan. Is Kawhi Leonard gonna finish his career here? That would be amazing, and of course I hope he falls in love with the city the same way DeRozan did, but I can only prepare for the worst. That Kawhi will leave, that the stigma is back, and that we’ll never have a guy like DeRozan want to stick around.
Gotta Give Drake Some Props Here
Drake is a guy that takes a lot of crap. I’ve heard him called a frontrunner and a fake tough guy and much worse that’s not fit to print. His music may not be to everyone’s taste. And from the Raptors side, it sure did seem goofy that the team had a rapper on the payroll as a “global ambassador.”
But as a Raptors fan, I can say that I’ve always felt Drake’s love of the team was authentic, that he genuinely wanted to help the team improve and to increase its stature both in Toronto and across the NBA. Did he have delusions of grandeur thinking he could help? Yeah, maybe. But hearing him talk about the team and watching him chat with DeRozan and Kyle Lowry and show up on broadcasts and all that... it always seemed real.
Then you hear DeRozan say he went to Drake’s house the day of the trade, just to talk for a few hours about the city and the team and what happened.
That’s pretty cool. We can laugh and say Drake’s a goofball and that his role is nothing more than a glorified mascot, but it’s clear he’s a trusted advisor to the players, and I think that does mean something. Good for Drake for being there for DeMar.
(I sure hope he’s reached out to Kawhi as well!)
Think we’ll get an ESPN sit-down with Kawhi Leonard next? Leonard is famously tight-lipped, so I doubt it. But I do hope we get to hear directly from him at some point.
Meantime, DeRozan’s ESPN interview has helped provide some closure. I think the next step will be when the Spurs come to town this season and we can show DeMar how much we still love him.