In what seems like the most anticipated game of the Raptor’s regular season, DeMar DeRozan will return with his San Antonio Spurs teammates to face the Toronto Raptors at Scotiabank Arena on Friday.
The league seems abuzz about the game at the moment. The game will be nationally televised in the United States. Masai Ujiri even appeared on ESPN shows like Get Up! and The Will Cain Show to talk about the trade.
It’s been about six months since Ujiri shook up his roster by acquiring Finals MVP and two-time Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard.
Since then the Raptors are 43-16, and second in the eastern conference heading into Friday’s matchup. The San Antonio Spurs are currently 7th in the West at 33-26.
Injuries have plagued the Spurs, as rising star Dejounte Murray has missed the entire season with a torn ACL. Derrick White who torched the Raptors for 19 points on 8-for-11 shooting in their last meeting will also be out, suffering from Plantar fasciitis.
With the emergence of Pascal Siakam, and the superstar-level play from Kawhi Leonard, people might forget just how good DeMar DeRozan was for the Toronto Raptors.
The Rookie out of USC (2009)
DeRozan was drafted 9th by the Raptors in the 2009 NBA Draft. A draft that featured many future All-Stars such as Steph Curry, James Harden, Jrue Holiday, and Blake Griffin to name a few. DeRozan was thrust into a Raptors team with its star player on the last year of his contract, and he seemingly was on his way out.
Chris Bosh was the ‘franchise player’ to inherit the reins after the messy end to the Vince Carter-era. In the time Bosh spent as the face of the franchise, the Raptors could only manage two playoff appearances which both ended in a first-round exit.
Similar to the end of the Carter-era, a young rookie emerged on the team to be ready to take the reins from the disgruntled star player. Andrea Bargnani wasn’t really panning out as fans and management had hoped, and there was no other young player to be excited about on the roster. DeRozan was billed as ‘the next great hope.’
Despite averaging only 8.6 points, DeRozan brought some excitement to the roster with his high-flying acrobatics above the rim.
After that season, Chris Bosh did leave Toronto. Bosh joined the Miami Heat alongside LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to try and win a championship. If there was any doubt as to who would lead the Raptors for the next years to come, DeRozan answered those doubts in a tweet back in June 2010.
Don’t worry, I got us…
— DeMar DeRozan (@DeMar_DeRozan) June 29, 2010
Growing Pains (2010-2013)
From 2010 to 2013, DeRozan and the Raptors went through some growing pains. Suffering from the loss of Chris Bosh to the Miami Heat, the Raptors had a hard time winning games during these years.
Finishing with a record of 22-60 in the 2010-11 season, there wasn’t much to be excited about. DeRozan had a good sophomore season, increasing his point average from 8.6 to 17.2, but the team was horrible. And it was hard to watch.
A consolation of this losing season was the lottery pick that landed Jonas Valančiūnas 5th overall in the 2011 draft.
The 2011-2012 season wasn’t much better. The NBA was in lockout, so the regular season was shortened. To make matter worse for Raptor fans, Chris Bosh and the Miami Heat won their first of their back-to-back championships.
Meanwhile the Raptors were once again bottom feeders in the east. Dwane Casey was hired as head coach, and the Raptors finished with a 23-43 record. The Raptors outright sucked.
DeRozan seemed to hit his sophomore slump in his third season. His point average dipped slightly to 16.7 points on worse shooting efficiency.
The 2012-2013 season was the start of an upward trend for the Raptors. After failing to sign Steve Nash in the offseason the Raptors acquired Kyle Lowry from the Houston Rockets. This season was the start of the Lowry-DeRozan era.
Other roster moves included the drafting of Terrence Ross, and the trade which saw Raptors veteran José Calderón exchanged for Rudy Gay. This trade opened up the starting point guard spot for Lowry.
DeRozan played fairly well, as he averaged 18.1 points on 44 percent shooting. The Raptors finished the season 34-48, four games out of the last playoff spot.
We The North (2013-2014)
The offseason prior to the 2013-14 season saw the return of Masai Ujiri to Toronto. He served as the Assistant General Manager to Byran Colangelo in 2008 before leaving for the Denver Nuggets.
Ujiri quickly managed to fleece the New York Knicks by shipping an injury-plagued Andrea Bargnani for 3 veterans and a first-round pick that later became Jakob Poetl.
Even with Ujiri at helm of the team, the Raptors struggled to start the season. Out the gate, the Raptors were 6-12 and it looked like another lost season for Canada’s only basketball team.
Ujiri decided he had to make a big change if the Raptors were going to turn the season around. The Raptors traded Rudy Gay, Aaron Gray, and Quincy Acy to the Sacramento Kings in exchange for Patrick Patterson, Greivis Vásquez, Chuck Hayes, and John Salmons.
This trade benefitted the Raptors greatly. The Raptors got steady bench production from the players acquired from Sacramento, and DeRozan and Lowry also began to thrive.
DeRozan averaged a then career-high 22.7 points, along with 4 assists and 4.3 rebounds. DeRozan was selected as an east all-star that year for this efforts.
Lowry also had a breakout season averaging 17.9 points, 7.4 assists, and 4.9 rebounds.
As result, the Raptors clinched their first playoff-birth since 2008. Finishing with an Atlantic Division title and a 3rd place ranking in the Eastern Conference, the Raptors faced the veteran Brooklyn Nets in the First round of the 2014 playoffs.
DeRozan’s First Postseason (2014)
DeRozan played very well in his first playoff series. He averaged a team-high 23.9 points in 40 minutes a game in the Brooklyn series.
The Raptors played well, but ultimately the experience of veterans Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Joe Johnson, and Deron Williams proved too much for the Raptors to overcome. The Nets came out on top, winning the series 4-3 in a game seven ending 104-103 in the Nets’ favour.
Even so, basketball was the talk of the city in Toronto during the 7-game series. Crowds gathered outside the Air Canada Centre in Maple Leaf Square, which was dubbed by the fans as ‘Jurassic Park’ during the Raptors playoff run.
The city was electric. Chants of ‘We The North’ could be heard far down Bremner Boulevard, which is the street that leads up to the Raptors arena.
Even though the Raptors lost, they won the hearts of many fans across Canada and in the United States. An identity was built. This was ‘Canada’s team,’ and fans eagerly awaited what would come next from DeRozan and the Raptors.
Northern Uprising (2015-2016)
The Raptors followed their 2014 playoff exit with a similar season in the 2014-15 season. Finishing with a 49-33 record, the Raptors unfortunately got swept in the first round by the Washington Wizards led by John Wall and Bradley Beal. Just when the Raptors seemed to be on the rise, it almost felt like Ujiri had to go back to the drawing board.
Despite the sweep, Ujiri kept the core together and added pieces to fill out the roster. Additions in DeMarre Carroll and Cory Joesph were meant to bring some playoff experience and veteran toughness to the team.
A young centre by the name of Bismack Biyombo was brought on to the team after not quite reaching his potential in Charlotte.
The Raptors also traded away point guard Greivis Vásquez in exchange for a second-round pick that became Norman Powell.
The 2015-16 season
The Raptors began to catch fire in the 2015-16 season. Bismack Biyombo’s impact was felt almost immediately, as the Raptors had a legitimate rim-protector and defence-first big who can alternate Valančiūnas’ offence-first game.
Cory Joesph provided steady play at the backup point guard spot behind Kyle Lowry.
And DeMar DeRozan was steadily improving. He was now averaging 23.5 points, 4 assists, and 4.5 rebounds while shooting a career-best 33.8 percent from the 3-point line.
The Raptors finished with a then franchise-best 56-26 record, clinching their third-straight playoff birth and the second seed in the east. The hype was real, and going into the playoffs they faced another tough test in the first round.
2016 Playoffs Round One: Nail-Biter
First the Raptors faced the Indiana Pacers led by Paul George. The series was a nail-biter to say the least as it took 7 games to crown a winner.
The Pacers took game 1, as the Raptors just couldn’t seem to win the first game of a playoff series. Paul George, coming off a scary leg injury looked phenomenal. George was clearly the best player on the court, exceeding the play of Lowry and DeRozan.
DeRozan averaged 17.8 points on the series. He was largely inconsistent in the first round against Indiana, but he showed up when it mattered. DeRozan dropped 34 points in a pivotal game 5 comeback, and finished with 30 points in the game 7 clincher.
They took the long road, but the Raptors ended up winning the series against the Pacers. They got their first playoff series victory since 2001, and this was also their first playoff series win in the seven-game format.
2016 Round Two: Grit n’ Grind
The Raptors advancing past the first round for the first time since 2001, now had to face the battle-tested Miami Heat. The Heat, coming off a finals defeat at the hands of Kawhi Leonard and the San Antonio Spurs prior to this postseason had a lot to prove.
LeBron James departed for his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. Chris Bosh was dealing with health issues that kept him off the court. Dwayne Wade, Goran Dragić, and a familiar foe in Joe Johnson proved to be a worthy test for the Raptors.
Injuries kept Hassan Whiteside and Jonas Valančiūnas both sidelined after games 1 and 2. Despite the injuries DeRozan performed much better in this series. He averaged 22.1 points, and put an exclamation point on the series in game 7 with a 28-point performance in a blowout victory.
It once again took seven games to advance, but the Raptors have now reached a point where they had never previously reached. Vince Carter couldn’t do it. Carter was one shot away from the conference finals and he missed it. Chris Bosh’s time in Toronto didn’t even see him participate in a competitive playoff series.
But here’s DeMar DeRozan. The kid from Compton, Los Angeles. He led the Raptors to unknown territory.
2016 Round Three: Underdogs
After 2 gruelling seven-game series, the Raptors now met the juggernaut of the east in the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs swept both their previous series’ leading up to the Conference Finals, while the Raptors had taken the maximum amount of games to get there.
It seemed like the Raptors didn’t have a chance. Hardly anyone have them a chance to even win a game. Games 1 and 2 were blowout victories for LeBron and company, however the narrative shifted in games 3 and 4.
DeRozan dropped 32 points in games 3 and 4 to silence his critics about his earlier playoff performances. The Raptors were suddenly in the series. Bismack Biyombo also provided a spark, famously grabbing 26 rebounds in game 3 and ‘blocking’ LeBron James in game 4.
For a moment, it looked like the Raptors had a chance to win the series. The reality was, LeBron and the Cavs never took the Raptors seriously until the series was split at two games a piece.
From there, Cavs went on to finish the Raptors in six games. DeRozan averaged 19.7 points on the series, and finished the playoffs averaging 20.9 points.
Despite the disappointing end to the series, a feeling emerged similar to when the Raptors were knocked out by the Brooklyn Nets in 2014. There was a sense that this was not the end for the Raptors.
LeBronto ends an Era (2016-2018)
The Raptors were no longer satisfied with just regular season success. After being 2 wins away from the franchise’s first finals birth, DeRozan and Lowry were determined to take the Raptors even further than before. This determination showed in their play, as both DeRozan and Lowry were having career years.
The 2016-17 season
DeRozan averaged a career-best 27.3 points and 5.2 rebounds, and was selected to be on the All-NBA Third team for his efforts. DeRozan took his game to a whole new level. He looked Kobe-esque as he had always emulated his game after the Laker legend.
Unfortunately for the Raptors Lowry was injured in the regular season, and missed 22 games to end the season. In the playoffs, they faced the Milwaukee Bucks and a rising star in Giannis Antetokounmpo. The series was once again close, as the Bucks proved to be a scrappy team with length and shooting.
The Raptors inevitably prevailed in 6 games, including a dramatic finish in game six. DeRozan had 32 points in the closeout victory.
After facing the Bucks, the Raptors met the Cleveland Cavaliers once again. This time they would face each other the second round. The Cavs, knowing full-well what this Raptors team was capable of didn’t take them lightly this time. LeBron and company were all business, and they brought the brooms to the Air Canada Centre.
The 2017-18 season
2017-18 ended more or less the same as the previous season. The hype was once again at an all-time high. Could the Raptors finally get past the LeBron James-led Cavs? The third time’s the charm right?
The regular season saw the Raptors set yet another franchise high in wins, with a 59-23 record and for the first time finishing with the Eastern Conference’s best record. DeRozan’s point average went down to 23 a game, but he averaged a career-high 5.2 assists on the season in an effort to get the ball moving under assistant Nick Nurse’s new offence.
The Raptors were pushed to 6 games against a familiar foe in the Washington Wizards, but the Raptors proved to be too much for John Wall and Bradley Beal this time around.
Advancing to round 2, the Raptors met the Cavs for the third straight season. For the second straight season, the Raptors were swept. DeRozan averaged 16.7 points on the series, and overall it seemed like the Raptors could not overcome LeBron James in the East.
On July 18th, 2018, DeMar DeRozan was traded to the San Antonio Spurs for Kawhi Leonard. Other players were included in the deal, but the centrepieces of the deal were the two star forwards. Prior to the trade, DeRozan was allegedly told by Ujiri that he was not going to be moved in a potential deal.
DeRozan felt betrayed, and was quick to post on his instagram story about the trade hours before it was made official. Similarly Kyle Lowry revealed in an interview with Rachel Nichols that he also felt the same way DeRozan did about the trade.
The trade was a tough pill to swallow for fans as well. Raptor fans had come to love DeRozan as one of their own. Coming into the league as a 20-year-old, fans saw DeRozan grow up into the player and into the man he is today.
DeRozan’s Raptor Legacy
It was hard not to like a player who is so dedicated to their craft. It was hard to accept the fact that the Raptors have traded their home-grown talent away.
It’s unquestionable in my humble opinion, that DeMar DeRozan is the greatest Raptor of All-Time. DeRozan is the franchise leader in points all-time, and in a game. After the departure of Vince Carter, the Raptors struggled to be relevant. DeRozan helped make the Raptors relevant in the NBA again.
Now going into Friday’s matchup, everyone seems excited to see DeRozan once again take the court in Toronto. DeRozan said he’s moved on. The Raptors are on a new path with Kawhi Leonard. LeBron James is no longer in the east. One thing is certain, the Raptors’ season this year won’t end at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
But for the man who repped the Raptors harder than anyone ever before him, on behalf of the fans, we thank you. Through the ups and downs, he was always there. He said he got us back in 2010. He was right.