It’s a hard idea to grasp isn’t it? DeMar DeRozan – a player who was near the top of the basketball world during his tenure in Toronto; one half of the two-headed dragon that led the Raptors to The Playoffs for five consecutive years; but whose time north of the border ended so bitterly – coming back to play for the team that hurt him so badly that even his best friend, Kyle Lowry, refused to speak to the team’s president for several months? We’re not necessarily suggesting it, but it would definitely be interesting.
DeRozan has the option to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason, or he can opt into the final year of his contract worth $27.7M. Either way, his time with the San Antonio Spurs may be coming to an end. The Spurs’ legendary head coach, Gregg Popovich, may finally be looking to retire, and according to Jabari Young of CNBC, DeRozan is unhappy with his situation in San Antonio. Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer subsequently reported that DeMar has been involved in some trade conversations. Regardless of whether DeMar opts in or out of his final year, he should be able to leverage his way out of Texas, if that’s ultimately what he wants. Might he be interested in reuniting with his best friend in Toronto?
Since Raptors president, Masai Ujiri’s relationship with his two former stars went wayward, he’s been able to classily rebuild some rapport with each of them. When DeMar came back to face the Raptors as a Spur in January of 2019, he came into the Raptors locker room, gave Masai Ujiri a hug, and asked him how his family has been doing. Ujiri spoke to the media after the game regarding their interaction, iterating that there is “still plenty of work to be done” in repairing his relationship with DeRozan, but that they were certainly on their way to that goal. With Lowry, the blip was more minimal. After Lowry was on record talking about how there is no reason for him to have any relationship with Ujiri beyond their professional one, they were able to bond over just that: basketball. In the midst of a season where they both realized that they could win a championship by putting their differences aside, Ujiri and Lowry were able to accomplish the ultimate goal, and shared a warm embrace after winning Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals in Oracle Arena.
All in all, let’s assume that DeRozan would be willing to take the next step in healing his relationship with Ujiri, and give Toronto another shot. It would be great to see the player who embodied the Raptors for nine years come back to play in Toronto, but that’s really just emotionally pleasing. There are some very real basketball complications that can’t be ignored, which are among the reasons why the Raptors shipped him out in the first place.
While one could certainly make an argument that DeRozan has been one of the most underrated players in the NBA over the past decade, and that in a world without LeBron James, he would have led the Raptors to multiple finals appearances, there are still some major shortcomings in his game. Most notably, his inability to play defense, and his below-average three point shooting do not fit the Raptors’ mold. As a 31-year-old now, it’s hard to rely on hope that Nick Nurse could teach an older dog some new tricks.
In terms of his defensive abilities, one does not have to look beyond the eye test to see that they’re nonexistent. His intangibles are lacking, his help defense is consistently late, his effort and energy on that side of the basketball is lackluster, and he can’t contain the ball well either. He’s not uber switchable onto bigs despite his good length and 6’7, 220-pound frame, nor can he stay in front of smaller and quicker guards on the perimeter. Additionally, he’s only a 25.7% career three-point shooter. In essence, he’s pretty much the opposite of an archetypal Raptors player.
That doesn’t mean his services wouldn’t help though. This past year, all that the Raptors were missing was a wing player who could score at will. While DeRozan has his flaws, you can’t bash his ability to put the ball in the bucket. While it’s not always pretty, or even consistent, having DeRozan take a mid-range jumper is a better last-shot than relying Pascal Siakam to weave his way to the rim and convert a tough layup. Almost certainly, Siakam will have a wider arsenal next season, however DeRozan’s scoring in the clutch still wouldn’t hurt.
Though DeRozan’s scoring output decreased during his time in San Antonio, his efficiency peaked. Excluding his rookie season, DeMar had the two best shooting years of his career just by focusing on his strengths. In a league obsessed with three-point shooting, DeRozan took less than one per game, and was still an efficient 20+ point per game scorer.
Financially, taking on DeMar would not hurt the Raptors either. Anything that the Raptors do this offseason will be focused around maintaining enough cap space to make a run at Giannis Antetokounmpo next summer. If DeMar opts into his final year, then he’ll be on an expiring contract and won’t touch the books for the 2020-2021 season, but if he decides to test free agency this summer instead, the Raptors might still have a shot at landing him on a big one-year deal. There would be complications around the type of deal they could offer to Serge Ibaka if that’s the case, however dealing Norman Powell or Terence Davis Jr. before free agency could help ease the required salary cap gymnastics.
In the scenario where the Raptors are able to get some scoring help in DeRozan, it would not only make Raptors fans happy, and be a lot of fun to watch a team comprised of Lowry, DeRozan, OG Anunoby, Siakam, and hopefully Ibaka and Fred VanVleet, but they would be pretty damn good too. Figuring out what the starting lineup is may take some ego management and tough decisions, but that would be left up to however Nick Nurse sees fit.
Booksmakers hold that it’s unlikely for DeMar to begin next season as a Raptor, but there’s never anything wrong with going against the tide. For any homers hoping to see a DeRozan-Raptors reunion, there are bonus codes available if you’re willing to put a few bucks down. Maybe – just maybe – the unlikely will become a reality.