The former USC standout was drafted by Toronto and raised by that organization. And even though he’s played there since being traded, it’s still an emotional return.
It’s not like Monday was DeMar DeRozan’s first trip back to Toronto to face off against the organization that raised him.
It was actually his third time.
That doesn’t mean it wasn’t emotional for the Bulls forward, who spent his first nine seasons with the Raptors after they drafted him with the ninth overall pick back in 2009.
“Every time I’m ever back, it’s definitely been emotional,’’ DeRozan said. “That’s where I grew up. Not just basketball, but as a man. I was 19 years old, moving to a country I’ve never been to and they embraced me and took me in like I was one of their own.
“To see the whole city grow, the organization grow, me being a big part of that, you definitely have an emotional connection to that organization, that city. It’s always bittersweet going back, seeing people I grew up knowing that work there, everything about it. It’s like my second home.’’
DeRozan admittedly treated it as such.
Most NBA players don’t have long-term plans to stay up North and play. There’s been a history of players publicly complaining about being a Raptor, whether it’s the idea of not being seen as much, the taxes, or just the hassle of going through customs for road trips.
DeRozan, however, did all he could to change that narrative. Not only with his play, reaching All-Star status four times and reaching the Eastern Conference Finals in 2016, but in talking to players about the positives in playing there.
“My whole mindset was to change that narrative when I was in Toronto,’’ DeRozan said. “I heard it my first year. You heard a lot of older guys I played with in my career while I was there had those same complaints – ‘I’m not trying to stay here long term.’
“I wanted to be the opposite and kind of change the narrative on why people should come here, how great of a city, how great of a country it really is, and see that transformation take [place] and the appreciation of the city, to have All-Star weekend there [back in 2016], being on center stage, you started to see a change. I feel like I had something to do with that and I took that with pride and honor being able to do that.’’
That’s why being traded to the Spurs for Kawhi Leonard back in 2018 stung DeRozan so much. Good thing he forgives easily.
“That’s all I knew getting drafted to the NBA, Toronto,’’ DeRozan said. “I wanted to make sure everyone saw it the way I did.’’
DeRozan and the Bulls will also play in Toronto on Dec. 16, so he’ll have another chance to visit his “second home’’ this season.
Tony Bradley and Derrick Jones Jr. were each solid acquisitions in the offseason, both expected to add some serious depth to a frontcourt that lacked bodies.
Four games into the regular season, they remained out of the rotation.
“One, it’s obviously a long year,’’ coach Billy Donovan said of where Bradley and Jones are in the plans. “Two, [Jones] like Tony Bradley, had some injuries in training camp.
“I think both guys have handled being out of the rotation at this point and time really well and professionally. They’ve been working before and after practice to keep themselves ready, and things could change. Deep down inside as competitors and NBA players, I’m sure every guy on our roster wants to be out there on the floor playing. I get that. And you want that. You want guys [like that], but the way they’ve conducted themselves, I think they’re trying to do what’s best for our team.’’