It’s obvious that there’s still a ton of love between DeMar DeRozan and Toronto, so maybe the San Antonio Spurs should trade him back.
When you read this headline, you probably thought I was crazy. What kind of team trades a franchise player, then trades to get him back the next year? How about a team that got what they needed from the initial trade, and want to make a splash to contend for another title?
The San Antonio Spurs traded for wing DeMar DeRozan out of necessity, not because they necessarily wanted to. Two-time Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard forced his way out and requested a trade after toying with the franchise that groomed him for a whole year as he nursed his degenerative quadricep injury. He got back to the court and earned that second coveted Larry O’Brien trophy in the process.
San Antonio and DeMar both sat back and watched this unveil, shaking their fists and holding their breath in the process. Kawhi abandoned San Antonio and Toronto abandoned DeMar, leaving both entities left to form a new allegiance in pursuit of basketball greatness.
In the process, DeMar has learned a ton from the Spurs and their coaching staff. Basketball guru Gregg Popovich has established a firm relationship with DeRozan based on respect and passion. DeRozan is a student of the game and Pop is the ultimate teacher, so they’ve spent the past season and a half helping DeRozan to become a better all-around player and leader.
However, this match isn’t working out for either side and the writing is on the walls for a departure. San Antonio is the ninth seed in the West despite DeRozan playing the best basketball of his life, and the young core in the Alamo City continues to bud in spite of the dominant nature of DeRozan’s game.
Still, it’s become abundantly clear that DeRozan cannot be the best player on a top-level team, which is exactly why it makes sense for him to return to Toronto. He’d no longer be the Raptors’ best player.
Since DeRozan left, forward Pascal Siakam has become the ultimate forward of the future with a dynamic two-way skill set based in sound fundamentals and tremendous effort. He can make plays for others from the four-spot and has developed into a deadly floor-spacer. Siakam’s rebounding is improved, and his decision-making skills get better every single game.
Toronto is the third-seed in the East because of its incredible defensive prowess but sits at 13th in offensive rating and 12th in average scoring. If they were to return DeRozan as a primary scorer, the Raptors could raise the ceiling for their team and pull off one of the most incredible front office maneuvers in NBA history.
And yet, none of it matters unless there’s a solid deal in place, and I think I found one that works for all parties.
Next: A deal that raises the bar for both ballclubs
A deal that raises the bar for both ballclubs
Finding a deal that works for both sides wasn’t quite as hard as I thought it would be, because it allows the Raptors to continue benefitting from the Spurs’ misfortune while giving San Antonio what the fans wanted all along: 22-year-old forward OG Anunoby.
First and foremost, no one gives up any picks in this deal, unless Spurs GM Brian Wright can finagle one out of the illustrious Masai Ujiri. Since San Antonio is easily giving up the best player in the deal, they’d be swapping a first-rounder for the chance to dump Carroll’s three-year deal.
Now in his third season out of Indiana, Anunoby is showing signs of what’s to come in an increased role. Through 45 games, 44 of which he’s started, Anunoby is averaging 10.7 points, 5.5 boards and 1.1 steals per game – all of which are career-best marks. He’s a lengthy wing with great defensive instincts. He welcomes challenges with an open attitude, making him the right kind of player to fit the Spurs’ culture.
Anunoby is a hustler, busting his behind to make the right plays and keep in front of his assignments. His creativity as a ball-handler is improving, and playing in the Raptors’ championship-caliber system has taught him to emphasize ball movement above individual stats and contributions.
A conglomerate of Spurs fans have complained about not having him included in the Kawhi deal since last summer, so this trade could right their wrong and contribute for the future.
Meanwhile, Marc Gasol would be the Spurs’ best center and can provide an amazing one-two punch in the frontcourt with seven-time All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge. He’s on an expiring one-year, $25 million deal that would allow the team to pursue other options in the offseason, and he already has a great deal of respect for the Spurs given his battles with them during his many years in Memphis.
Gasol has always been a Spursy player and could make more of an impact than some may think despite being 35.
Next: Helping the Spurs establish a new direction
Helping the Spurs establish a new direction
Ever since Leonard sat out all but nine games of the 2017-18 season, San Antonio has been clamoring for a route to proceed on. The organization has too much pride to flat-out tank and acquired DeRozan in hopes that he would levy their situation in lieu of their MVP-candidate’s departure. He had a strong first season and it getting even better in his prime, but DeRozan can opt-out of his contract and become a free agent this season, and re-signing him may not be in the Spurs’ best interest.
DeRozan doesn’t fit the timeline of the rest of the team, because adding another star to help this team push forward into serious contention is highly unlikely. Instead, it would be wiser to steer the ship toward the young core by allowing players like Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Lonnie Walker and Jakob Poeltl to take the reins.
The team guaranteed Aldridge’s contract through next season and could choose to move on from him as well at this deadline, but it makes more sense to keep him around given his age and corporate knowledge of the Spurs way. He has better chemistry with the young guys and has been the foundational rock for this team since franchise star-turned assistant coach Tim Duncan retired.
Meanwhile, Anunoby gives the Spurs a wing defender that they desperately need to combat the many talented small forward of the modern NBA. His playstyle and physicality fit the rest of the young players, and his work ethic matches what the Spurs need.
It’s not exactly ideal for things to turn out this way, especially considering what the Spurs gave up to make this deal in the first place, but it’s also a good way to pull San Antonio out from this identity crisis it has suffered for the last few years.
Next: A redemption tour for DeRozan
A redemption tour for DeRozan
The last two seasons haven’t been easy for 30-year-old DeRozan. After spending his whole career as a Raptor, becoming the face of the organization and putting the team on his back, he was thrown away and forgotten by many. Though the Raptors continue to show him, tremendous love, social media would suggest that many fans in Toronto moved on from him quickly because of the prospects Kawhi provided for their future.
Since becoming a Spur, DeRozan’s battle with mental health continues. He’s lost two extremely notable figures for the LA-native in Nipsey Hussle and, more recently, Kobe Bryant. He had to adjust to a totally new life and a brand new culture after knowing one thing for his entire NBA career: The Raptors.
Going back to the city that drafted him, and will most certainly retire his number, gives him an opportunity to rewrite his legacy. DeRozan could take all that he learned from his time with the Spurs, which is a lot considering his recent play, and rejoin his best friend Kyle Lowry as they continue their own chase for a trophy together.
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Adding DeRozan back to the Raptors’ lineup returns a sense of familiarity but in a new context. He’s not the player he was the last time he donned their jersey, and his teammates have done some growing up.
As mentioned earlier Siakam transformed himself into an All-Star starter, and point guard Fred VanVleet built his own All-Star case at the start of the season before leveling out as the year progressed. Still, he’s a vastly improved shot-maker and passer in the contexts of pick-and-roll, fastbreak and team-based ball movement.
The Raptors aren’t being taken too seriously as a contender to go back-to-back, and quite frankly they shouldn’t be. Leonard is gone, and so is former-Spur Danny Green. They’ve played championship-ball by committee and would likely need someone like DeRozan to tackle perimeter-based teams like the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat come playoff time.
Sending DeRozan back to the Raptors could be hugely beneficial for the Spurs’ future, the Raptors’ title hopes and DeRozan’s legacy as a whole.