The Toronto Raptors are in the midst of their first NBA Finals appearance, having reached that landmark moment thanks to the play of Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry and others. While he is rooting for his best friend in Lowry, DeRozan feels he was the “sacrificial lamb” in the Raptors reaching the championship series.
In an interview with Taylor Rooks of Bleacher Report, DeRozan — now with the San Antonio Spurs — explained how he is pulling for his former team in The Finals.
“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 said in the video interview. “Yes, I fought, I sacrificed, I pushed the limits to where I had to be the sacrificial lamb.
“You just have to sit back and understand, like, you know, you are the reason so many things was even possible.”
DeRozan was dealt to the Spurs last summer in the blockbuster trade that sent Leonard to the Raptors. Toronto is tied 1-1 in The Finals with the Golden State Warriors and Game 3 of the series is tomorrow night (9 ET, ABC).
“To their credit, [the Raptors] probably felt like it was time to see what we could get to make that next jump,” DeRozan said in the video interview.
When asked if he was more upset or more hurt by the trade to San Antonio last summer, DeRozan knew his response right away.
“More hurt,” DeRozan said of his feelings about the trade, “because, you know, being invested from 19 to — I was what, 28? Everything you learned was from there. Everything you gained was from there.
“So 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.”
Despite those feelings, DeRozan is pulling for Lowry, with whom he forged a deep friendship on and off the court in Toronto.
“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,” DeRozan said. “All the guys on that team, they know I’m rooting for them.”
In his first season with the Spurs, DeRozan averaged 21.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 6.0 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game as San Antonio reached the playoffs and pushed the No. 2-seeded Denver Nuggets to Game 7. In speaking with Bleacher Report, DeRozan explained how much he has enjoyed playing for Spurs coach Gregg Popovich — while also sharing entertaining stories about Popovich’s coaching techniques.
“Pop is cool. He’s like a Don Corleone. He makes you look at him not just like the basketball coach, but a great individual,” DeRozan said. “I called him the other day just to talk trash to him and … he’s not good with working iPhones and all that. He hates technology with a passion. He always talks about how he’s going to put something on Twitter knowing he ain’t have a Twitter.”
“He calls it Twittergram. ‘I’m going to put something on Twittergram and see if they catch this,’ ” DeRozan said.
DeRozan shared how one of his most memorable experiences with Popovich came during a team film session, in which the coach showed the entire 2005 film, “March of the Penguins.”
“I remember one meeting, I thought we were going to watch film. He put on the ‘Penguin’ movie .. the whole thing,” DeRozan said. “The whole point of it was how life is a full circle. As long as we work together, stick together and stay on the same track, we can accomplish the most impossible mission.”
Many doubted the Spurs would run their streak of consecutive playoff appearances to 22 in 2018-19 after an offseason filled with turmoil and roster turnover.
A year ago, Leonard played in only nine games while nursing a right thigh injury. Reportedly upset with how his rehabilitation was handled, Leonard forced his way out of San Antonio in the offseason and was sent to Toronto along with Danny Green in a trade for DeRozan and center Jakob Poeltl.
The Spurs also lost Manu Ginobili to retirement and Tony Parker left the team in free agency along with veteran Kyle Anderson. San Antonio had eight new players on its roster this season, the most in Popovich’s tenure. That turned out to be one of the highlights for the veteran coach as the Spurs won 48 games and made the postseason.
In one four-game stretch of the season, the Spurs lost three games by 30-plus points; in Popovich’s first 1,758 regular-season games as coach, the Spurs had only lost by 30-plus five total times. Of course, they also won five straight games by 25-plus points for the first time under Popovich and ended up seventh in the Western Conference as DeRozan and veteran LaMarcus Aldridge helped carry the team’s young roster.
“I think that when we all reflect on the season, they achieved a lot more than a lot of people gave them credit for having the opportunity to achieve,” Popovich said in late April.
“It’s the beginning of a new culture for a new group. So, we’ll have a little bit of corporate knowledge going into next season and they’ll show that, I think.”