DeMar DeRozan's impact on Bulls transcends All-Star appearance

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DeRozan's impact on Bulls transcends All-Star berth originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Officially, DeMar DeRozan earned his fifth All-Star appearance Thursday night when TNT revealed the starters for the Feb. 20 game in Cleveland.

But as far as the Chicago Bulls are concerned, DeRozan acted like an All-Star — or even an MVP or NBA champion, two things he hasn’t accomplished yet in his 13-year career — from the moment they acquired him.

Just listen back to what DeRozan said at Bulls media day before training camp.

“First and foremost, before I’ve even played a game, I (will) understand every single one of these guys’ strengths when it comes to basketball, just my knowledge of what it takes to be successful, what it takes to bring a team together,” he said in September. “There’s going to be ups and downs. There’s going to be obstacles that you got to hit. But that’s the beauty of life, period. It’s about how you bounce back when things get tough and you got to figure out something. It’s a new challenge and I’m looking forward to it.”

That’s leadership. That’s All-Star attitude. That’s the impact DeRozan has made off the court.

When you combine what DeRozan has done on it, it’s hard to overstate the impact he has made in helping transform the Bulls’ leaguewide perception. When DeRozan travels to Cleveland next month — joined, almost surely, by Zach LaVine when coaches’ reserves picks are announced next week — he will do so with leaguewide respect from his peers.

DeRozan finished first in fan and media voting, but he also drew 155 player votes for this distinction. That’s the sixth-highest number of player votes behind Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, Nikola Jokić and Joel Embiid. (LaVine, in a nice consolation prize, received 73 player votes to 46 for the other East backcourt starter, Trae Young.)

It’s why an across-the-board reaction of respect and admiration erupted throughout the franchise. In fact, LaVine broke the news via the Bulls’ charter plane intercom as the team flew from Chicago to San Antonio.

“It’s always an honor, especially when you get voted in by the fans. Just being a player that the fans want to see is definitely an honor. I would never ever take that for granted,” DeRozan said from San Antonio. “Just being back in it is just an honor in itself. So I’m happy. I’m happy my teammates helped me get here. I gotta give so much credit to them.  Without them, I wouldn’t even have this chance to be named a starter. So I gotta give so much credit to my teammates and the coaching staff.”

What’s crazy is despite this standing among his peers, DeRozan often still gets overlooked. This season’s heroics, which have the Bulls within sniffing distance of the Eastern Conference’s top seed despite widespread injuries, has helped DeRozan reclaim his status among the game's greats.

Yes, he made four All-Star games with the Toronto Raptors, who loved him as the face of the franchise but also traded him to the Spurs for Kawhi Leonard. (That the Raptors went on to win the title in Leonard’s lone season there made this all the more difficult.) Yes, DeRozan grew his game as a playmaker and leader with the Spurs, but he flew under the radar as that franchise ended its long run of playoff appearances.

And who can forget the strong reaction from many prognosticators who questioned DeRozan’s fit alongside LaVine and widely panned the Bulls’ sign-and-trade acquisition of him?

“We always strive off some type of motivation from the naysayers and doubters,” DeRozan said. “I let what I do on the court speak for itself when it comes to that. But by the same token, I use hate, whatever you want to call it, as free energy. I kind of thrive on it. Whatever mental edge I can gain from people saying what can’t happen or ‘I’m not this, that or the third,’ you always use that as some type of motivation.

“Everything from Day 1 when I first game in this league, I always look for elements I can use to drive myself. That’s always going to be in me, whether it’s me getting traded, whether it’s me not being able to do something as a rookie, whatever it might be. As long as I play this game, I’m going to find some type of mental edge that will continue to drive me.”

Nevertheless, returning to the All-Star game, while an honor, wasn’t DeRozan’s goal entering this season.

“I think getting back to just being myself and the capabilities that I knew I had,” DeRozan said. “And using my time of being traded, going through a new situation, learning so much underneath one of the greatest coaches of all time [Gregg Popovich], putting all that knowledge into one and finally making a decision of my own to choose where I wanted to play in my career for the first time.

“I felt like it was a restart for me to understand, like, ‘OK, let’s put this all together and prove, more so to myself, that the work that I put in won’t go unnoticed.’ That was just my goal, to go out there and lead and be a winner.”

The Bulls are winning. DeRozan is an All-Star again, his first appearance since 2018. Validation can take many forms.

DeRozan, 32, laughingly reminded reporters he’s not getting any younger. To make it back to the All-Star game with a new team — the one he chose in free agency and arrived to via a sign-and-trade — in a new situation is significant.

DeRozan is getting the last laugh.

“All my life, I’ve been a student of the game. And I always measured players’ games off their work ethic and their heart. And that’s something that analytics could never measure,” he said. “And for me, I always wanted to be that inspiration to people. Stay true to yourself, whatever that is. Don’t feel like you have to be forced to change to be something else that you might not be comfortable with, or you’re just not quite there yet. Master whatever it is the part of your game that you can master and take full advantage of it.

“And I never wanted to (stray) away from that. I never wanted to be forced into doing something else. It was tough, hearing all the critics, the criticism about your game, this, that, this, that. But I just stayed true to myself. And this is just a true testament, moments like this, to players everywhere. Never lose confidence in your ability and your work ethic and what you put into this game because it definitely will give it back to you.”

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