DeRozan: Raptors one or two pieces away from reaching next level
MANILA, Philippines – Seven years is a long period, but for the Toronto Raptors and its basketball-crazy fans, it must have felt like an eternity.
During the turn of the century, the Raptors were frequent mainstays in the NBA Playoffs. A lot of it had to do with them playing in a weaker conference, but with All-Star Vince Carter leading the squad, the franchise remained competitive during the postseason.
The team had struggled since trading Carter in 2004, making the playoffs just once in 2007 under the leadership of Chris Bosh. When Bosh bolted in 2010 to join Miami's Big Three, the Raptors were once again left to rebuild.
It was a dark period in the organization's tenure, but what they didn't know was that they had a hidden gem who would replace Bosh as the face of the franchise.
After averaging 8.6 PPG in his 2009-2010 rookie campaign, DeMar DeRozan, a product out of University of Southern California (USC), would increase his scoring output by 10 points the following season and would hover around that range until 2013.
In 2013, after the Raptors let go of small forward Rudy Gay, DeRozan finished his year with career highs - 22.7 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 4.0 APG - earning him the first of what could be many All-Star nods in the process.
When asked yesterday, June 25, what motivated him to take his game to a higher level this past season, DeRozan talked about how his team’s disappointing past finishes inspired him to contribute more.
"Honestly, just the hunger to win, especially from the previous seasons that I’ve had, you know,” DeRozan said during a conference call. “My four previous seasons weren’t nice, not good, but it definitely drove me to be great.”
DeRozan’s play matched with the steady contributions of Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas, and the rest of the team earned Toronto the third seed in the East this past season and a date with the Nets franchise in the postseason.
Though the former USC standout put up nearly 24 PPG, he shot a disappointing 39% from the field and failed to get his team to the second round as the Nets won in seven games.
But Toronto doesn’t consider last season a failure. DeRozan’s dedication to further improving his craft to make sure the next seven years will be better than the last seven years.
“I want to be worthy to answer my game,” he mentioned about his improvement. “I still felt like I had a few weaknesses that I didn’t feel fully comfortable with this season. This is what this off-season is for: to get stronger, to continue to be an all-around player, keep getting better and better every time I step in the gym.”
When queried on being a mentor to teammates, DeRozan mentioned that he plans on taking some of Toronto’s younger players under his wing to help enhance their games.
“Yes, mostly all the young players in our team like Jonas (Valanciunas), Terrence Ross. They were rookies, I was there when I was a rookie, to see them grow, I’ve been there, to mature them as much as possible, and do everything I can to help here, whenever they need to call, or even in the game, teach them the little things especially the late-game situations.
'Do not have to emulate nobody'
DeRozan’s work ethic and self-belief has made him into an All-Star, and the faith he has in his teammates makes him feel that Toronto doesn’t need to copy other rivals who team up All-Stars via free agency or trades – similar to Bosh’s route four years ago.
“No, we definitely do not have to emulate nobody. I think we definitely have our own style; we definitely created the players that we have,” the former Trojan emphasized.
Similar to Carter’s time with the Raptors, the Eastern Conference has yet to catch up with the Western Conference in terms of overall talent and depth. But with the top squads in the East dealing with different issues, there could be room for Toronto to take over.
If Bosh, Dwyane Wade, and Udonis Haslem opt out of their contracts (LeBron James already has), the Heat will only have two players signed for next season: Norris Cole and Justin Hamilton. And even if the Big Three return, they still aren’t getting any younger.
Chicago faces question marks due to the health of Derrick Rose, whom they cannot win without. Indiana’s roster seems unable to take the next step of making it to the NBA Finals, and their core is in danger of getting broken apart. New York and Brooklyn both have no picks, many aged players, and no cap space.
The Raptors could be one move away from shifting the tides in the Eastern Conference.
“I think we just missed one piece,” DeRozan said about the past season. “I think we just missed one piece. It could be [a] big, it could be a big wing defender, but we didn’t miss so much. I think it was great for a lot of us to go through the things we went through this season.”
He later commented about what moves his club should make:
“I don’t think we need to do much, honestly. [Maybe] one or two pieces to help what we already have. Honestly I think we should be all right.”
And unlike Carter, Bosh, and other NBA players looking to switch teams, DeRozan seems intent on staying in Canada’s sole NBA locale.
“It was everything and more,” he said, commenting on the city of Toronto’s support of the Raptors. “ I can’t explain in words, you know, how great our fans are, night-in and night-out… They always cheer for us. Once the playoffs came around we had thousands of friends outside the arena. It definitely, definitely shows we’ve got one of the best fans in the NBA by far.”
Toronto has a keeper in DeRozan, one who is motivated to boost his game and doesn’t lack the confidence to do so.
How confident? When asked who would win in a one-on-one contest between him and Nick Young – another former USC Trojan and talented scorer – here was DeRozan’s response:
“I’d go for myself for sure. I’d go myself. I’d beat Swaggy P one-on-one.” - Rappler.com