The Toronto Raptors’ rise to the NBA Finals has been a long journey, one that’s seen past teams featuring stars like Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter and Chris Bosh fall short.
It’s also a run that’s taking place without the player perhaps most associated with the franchise — DeMar DeRozan.
DeRozan played his entire career with the Raptors since being drafted out of USC in 2009 until being traded to the San Antonio Spurs in a package to acquire Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green last summer.
How is DeRozan experiencing Raptors’ success?
It was an emotional split for the four-time All-Star, who had battled with his Toronto teammates through several seasons that saw them finish near or at the top of the Eastern Conference standings but ultimately ended in the playoffs at the hands of LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers.
Now the Raptors are competing for a championship, and DeRozan is left to watch from afar, with eyes on many of his teammates he calls friends.
How does he feel watching the Raptors on TV? He opened up on the experience in an interview with Bleacher Report’s Taylor Rooks.
DeRozan: ‘I had to be the sacrificial lamb’
He’s still emotional. And he expressed a lingering attachment to the team, taking credit for what he sees as his role in the Raptors’ current success.
“I had to be the sacrificial lamb” @DeMar_DeRozan is still rooting for the Raptors in the Finals but explains why he was so hurt when the trade went down. Season finale of “Take It There” with @TaylorRooks https://t.co/CNL1gyPDtm pic.twitter.com/WKUtzvow29
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) June 4, 2019
"Honestly, I don't think I even said this — I probably said it to my own inner circle — but if it wasn't for all the years and groundwork that I did before then, none of them things would've been possible," DeRozan told Bleacher Report. "Yes, I fought, I sacrificed, I pushed the limits to where I had to be the sacrificial lamb.”
DeRozan then took it one step further, calling himself “the reason” for the Raptors success.
"You just have to sit back and understand, like, you know, you are the reason so many things was even possible."
DeRozan’s ultimate value was to obtain Leonard
In a way, DeRozan is right. He was the centerpiece from Toronto’s side of the deal that brought them Leonard, the player who has pushed them past the edge of where the team could go with DeRozan as its leader. Without him and the trade value he presented, the Raptors would not have Leonard today.
DeRozan gave Toronto nine excellent seasons that saw the Raptors consistently competitive in his prime. But they couldn’t break through with him as their No. 1 guy. General manager Masai Ujiri realized that and pulled the trigger on a high-risk, high-reward gamble that has paid off with a Finals appearance.
DeRozan coming to terms with deal
DeRozan was understandably initially bitter when he was traded from the team and the city he had grown to love, lashing out on Instagram about trust and loyalty.
“Be told one thing & outcome another,” DeRozan wrote after the deal. “Can’t trust em. Ain’t no loyalty in this game. Sell you out quit for a little bit of nothing…soon you’ll understand… Don’t disturb ...”
But now that the Raptors are experiencing new heights — and with the benefit of time — even DeRozan appears to have conceded that they made the right move, even if it was a painful one.
"To their credit, they probably felt like it was time to see what we could get to make that next jump," DeRozan told Bleacher Report. “ ... For that to be gone like that, when you least expect it, it just throws you off guard. You know, we human at the end of the day, and it definitely hits you."
So who is DeRozan supporting in Finals?
Does that mean he’s pulling for the Raptors? Thanks to his relationships with his former teammates — Kyle Lowry in particular — he says he is.
"You’ve got to understand. My best friend is Kyle. I'm rooting for my best friend to do well, to accomplish something that we tried to do all the years, and he has the opportunity to do it. All the guys on that team, they know I'm rooting for them."
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