DeMar DeRozan, the kid from Compton, Calif. who once professed “I am Toronto,” is no longer a Raptor.
The team’s longest serving and most successful player, who morphed from a shy teenager drafted by the Toronto Raptors into a four-time NBA all-star, is part of a franchise-altering trade for disgruntled San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard.
The loss of DeRozan was made a bit more tenable, perhaps, by the fact Raptors GM Masai Ujiri did not have to include any of his top young prospects or a plethora of draft picks.
According to league sources, Toronto will get Leonard and guard Danny Green — a free agent next summer — and will give up DeRozan, third-year centre Jakob Poeltl and a protected 2019 draft pick.
By not having to include either of OG Anunoby or Pascal Siakam, both seen as key pieces to Toronto’s long-term future, Ujiri has kept intact most of the team’s depth.
For Ujiri, the trade continues a summer remake of a team coming off its best regular season ever that was once again crushed in the playoffs by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Ujiri first fired Dwane Casey, the team’s most successful and longest-serving head coach and replaced him with Nick Nurse, one of Casey’s assistants.
Now Ujiri is on the verge of dealing away the 28-year-old DeRozan, who embraced his role with the franchise, the city and Canada like no other Raptor ever has.
DeRozan has always said he wanted to spend his entire career in Toronto and twice eschewed any serious look at free agency to remain with the Raptors. He sits atop, or is right close to the top, every significant statistical category. But his impression on the team runs much deeper than that. His willingness to stay here, the inestimable skills that made him an Olympic champion and one of the most dangerous shooting guards in the league today, combined to make him unique in franchise history.
“Be told one thing & the outcome another,” DeRozan said in an Instagram story posted in the wee hours of Wednesday morning. “Can’t trust em. Ain’t no loyalty in this game. Sell you out quickly for a little bit of nothing.”
Leonard, limited to nine games last season because of a recurring quadriceps injury, isn’t “nothing” but he is a bit of a question mark right now.
He grew more disenchanted with the Spurs with each passing month last season and finally demanded a trade from what’s considered one of the best-run and most successful franchises in league history.
Whether or not he can recover the skills that had him generally considered one of the top five or six players in the league two years ago is a gamble Ujri seems willing to take.
The Toronto president, along with general manager Bobby Webster, may also be gambling that Leonard will find the Raptors to his long-term liking or he’ll be nothing more than an expensive rental for one year, maximum.
Leonard, who will be paid $21 million (all figures U.S.) this coming season, will be an unrestricted free agent next July and could easily bolt for Los Angeles, long said to be his preferred destination.
And while his departure would provide Toronto with some kind of financial relief, it wouldn’t do enough to make them major players in an impressive 2019 free agency class, leading to the possibility Leonard could be flipped at some point during the coming season, if the trade is consummated.
The deal would lighten Toronto’s longer-term salary picture. DeRozan is to be paid nearly $28 million in each of the 2018-19 and 2019-2020 seasons and has a player option worth the same for 2020-21.