Goodbye, DeMar DeRozan: Raptors Choose Superstar Potential Over Loyalty

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The dawn hours on Wednesday morning brought the most significant move to date in the history of the Toronto Raptors. The recently speculated blockbuster deal to bring Kawhi Leonard to Canada became official.

A #WojBomb served as the day’s wake-up call, with the message blaring out that Raptors’ fan favorite and All-Star DeMar DeRozan was the centerpiece in this trade to acquire the multi-talented Leonard. Package alongside DeRozan: high-upside Austrian center and University of Utah product Jakob Poeltl and a Top 20 protected first round pick. San Antonio sends former NBA Finals hero Danny Green along with Leonard. 

This is the trade the Raptors absolutely needed to make, opening the door to several exciting opportunities. After being on the cusp of contention for the better part of this half-decade, Toronto needed to make a push to get over the hump. Acquiring Kawhi Leonard accomplishes that. 

Firstly, the deal turns the Raptors into the favorites in the Eastern Conference and a dark horse team to end the Golden State Warriors dynasty for this upcoming season. Immediate success is imperative with Leonard having just one year on his contract. 

Secondly, trading DeRozan for Leonard and Green accelerates the Raptors mission to free up cap space for a run at star free agents in 2020. DeRozan’s contract expires in 2021  – unlike rumored trade piece Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka’s deals expiring in 2020 – and acquiring two players on expiring contracts helps the Raptors in their aim for a future culture reset.

And yet – despite the Raptors clearly winning this trade on paper in every way to achieve their goals as a franchise both immediately and long-term – the deal leaves a nation of Raptors fans heartbroken. DeMar DeRozan showed his intent to remain with the organization for the duration of his career. 

DeRozan made his feelings clear this morning on the situation, indicating on his Instagram story there isn’t any loyalty in the game and the Raptors “sold him out quick for a little bit of nothing” in a disloyal move.

On the surface, it is understandable to see why DeRozan and so many Raptors fans are upset by the optics of this trade. In 2016, DeRozan pledged his faith to the Raptors organization in the face of the potential for the Compton product to return to play for his hometown Lakers or Clippers.

At the time, DeRozan took a pay-cut to continue to push for the potential of a storybook surpassing of LeBron James in the Eastern Conference. The comments he made after signing his deal to stay in Toronto also stressed his desire to spend his career as a one-team player; visions of a Kobe-esque legacy for the Los Angeles, only with an entire country on his back and not just one city. 

With this trade, the Raptors have upset a narrative the franchise – including myself in this equation – convinced fans to buy into. A team that was built through the effort of players who brought the Raptors to a level of the NBA’s manufactured superteams and on the precipice of knocking off the game’s greatest player time after time has discarded its heart and soul.

The optics certainly do not look good. DeRozan was the first Raptors star ever to make it clear he wanted to stay with the team forever, bucking an unfortunate tradition established by Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady and Chris Bosh in the previous two decades. For his loyalty, DeRozan was shipped out for a potential one-year rental and a chance to dump his $27 million per year salary cap hit.

Carter and Bosh both reaped the rewards of the love of Toronto and an entire country of basketball fans along with the national stardom it afforded. When things went sour for Carter and an opportunity to join a superteam came for Bosh, both players turned the back on the passionate Raptors fanbase.

When he had the opportunity in 2016, DeRozan embraced what he had as a beloved star player in Canada and showed his allegiance.

The Raptors decided to give that loyalty up for a gamble on a better player who just turned his back on his own franchise in an extremely messy exit from the Spurs where Leonard’s own loyalty came into question.

These are the risks Masai Ujiri and the Raptors have decided to take to land the league’s best two-way player. A road to the NBA Finals and a potential title has been opened up with frequent Toronto albatross LeBron James gone to L.A., but the cost and the uncertainty of acquiring a player with a toxic situation have turned a day where the Raptors have landed perhaps their first true elite player in franchise history into a day of gloom about the past.

Bonus: Top 5 DeMar DeRozan Moments 

DeRozan’s Dunk at the Buzzer In Detroit: 

Coast to coast with a cram that ended the Detroit Pistons hopes of the playoffs last season. One of DeRozan’s final signature highlights with the team in a sublime 59-win year for the Raptors.

4. Slam Dunk Contests 

DeRozan is an excellent dunker and provided plenty of memorable in-game dunks through his career with the Raptors. He also competed in two Slam Dunk Contests and put up some memorable dunks despite not winning the title, losing in 2010 to Nate Robinson.

3. The Raptors 133 Cavs 99 Game 

This game might be remembered more for Fred Van Vleet’s 22 points, but DeRozan stepped up without Lowry and Ibaka in a beatdown of the Cavs that solidified the Raptors as the best team in the Eastern Conference.

We all know what happened during the playoffs in the four-game sweep. However, at the time this win gave Raptors fans across the country the hope that this was the year for DeRozan and the rest of the team to finally beat the Cavs to go to the Finals.

2. Franchise Record 52 Points 

2018 was a career year for DeRozan and he had the best game of his season against the Bucks in a franchise record-setting night. The performance showed everything DeRozan was known for in his career with the Raptors, plenty of mid-range excellence and skill to get to the free-throw line in a picking apart of the Bucks.

1. Game 6 Clincher Against the Bucks 

DeRozan’s best playoff moment in his time with the Raptors. On the verge of a meltdown to allow a Game 7, DeRozan went to the rim to clinch the series with a handful of fourth-quarter dunks that ended the Bucks season on their homecourt.

Most of the Raptors playoff runs ended in heartbreak, yet hopefully, time will remember these moments from DeMar DeRozan and his loyalty to one franchise more than the easy jokes about losing time after time again to LeBron James. Few have meant more to a franchise in this modern decade of the game than DeRozan, and it is a shame to see what could have been a one-team career cut short.

From a Raptors fan,

Thanks for the memories DeMar