TORONTO • They’ve been outstanding within the crowd on the Scotiabank Area all season, the DeMar DeRozan jerseys. They’re proof of how well-liked he was on this metropolis, proof of how his departure, distinctive amongst famous person Raptors, was greater than somewhat unhappy for the workforce’s followers.
On Friday evening, these carrying his quantity 10, which is able to sooner or later hold within the area’s rafters, put these jerseys on with a way of function. To say thanks, to say goodbye, to precise love and remorse, to inform the child from Compton, Calif., that it meant one thing that he embraced the Toronto Raptors even when, ultimately, the franchise didn’t return the hug.
And when it was throughout, after the ovations when DeRozan took the ground in Toronto for the primary time as a customer, and once more when the beginning lineups had been introduced, and once more with the requisite scoreboard tribute that had the whole area on its ft for greater than two minutes, it was the ultimate, awkward, emotional bookend to the largest commerce in Raptors historical past. And likewise, the tip to probably the most uncommon of exits.
DeRozan didn’t go away when he had the prospect, and he didn’t come again as a villain, like so many earlier than him. He additionally didn’t keep right here till his legs had been gone, then surrender and chase a title elsewhere. He was nonetheless right here, nonetheless an All-Star, when the workforce gave up on him. All of that resulted within the surreal scenes of Friday evening, the place the participant receiving probably the most love in Toronto was a member of the San Antonio Spurs.
DeRozan performed nicely on the evening, scoring an environment friendly 23 factors and repeatedly discovering wide-open teammates for simple photographs. In the long run, although, he missed a few powerful photographs and turned the ball over late, permitting Kawhi Leonard, the person for whom he was traded, to seal a 120-117 Raptors win. If you happen to had been in search of a microcosm of the lingering holes in DeRozan’s sport, they might be present in these last moments.
DeRozan mentioned he appreciated the love, and that the importance of the second didn’t actually hit him till the sport ended. He talked about closure and mentioned he was glad to have the burden of his pending Toronto return behind him. And when a reporter famous that he had beforehand talked in regards to the commerce being like a break up, DeRozan mentioned being again right here was like seeing that lady for the primary time after the cut up: “You’re like, ‘rattling, she’s nonetheless positive,’” he mentioned. It wasn’t his solely good line: With Lowry guarding him late, DeRozan mentioned he preferred the matchup, however “Kyle’s fats ass is aware of the best way to guard me, clearly.”
And so, that chapter, seven months after the commerce, is lastly closed.
Now, the Toronto Raptors are off to seek out out if that the majority tough of transactions was value it.
Because it stands, it’s an unimaginable query to reply. The widespread perception is that the workforce needed to blow up the foundations with a view to elevate its ceiling. Too many playoff disappointment with its greatest-ever participant meant that administration, president Masai Ujiri and normal supervisor Bobby Webster, had been prepared to take an enormous threat when the chance to accumulate Kawhi Leonard grew to become out there. The danger-taking continued with the jettisoning of three rotation gamers for Marc Gasol, the veteran centre and All-NBA expertise. Add in Jeremy Lin, all of a sudden the backup level guard after the hand damage to Fred VanVleet, and a Raptors workforce that was alleged to be rounding into playoff type by now seems like, because it exits the All-Star break, it’s beginning over again.
It that approach, it was the right time to say goodbye to DeRozan. For the entire well-earned salutes coming his approach over the previous few days, for his work ethic, for his vulnerability, for the best way he grew to become a franchise chief in another country in a approach that actually no star participant in 20-plus years had for the Raptors, he additionally couldn’t be separated from the workforce’s repeated playoff failures. Final season he tailored to the brand new offensive philosophy, passing extra and trying extra threes — after which the Cleveland Cavaliers got here alongside and shut him down, once more. He was benched for the entire fourth quarter of Sport three in that collection, whereas his teammates mounted a stirring comeback that was finally casually dismissed by a LeBron floater, and when it was over DeRozan was at a loss to elucidate one other playoff nightmare.
It was time to maneuver on. It simply stays unclear, after three-quarters of a season wherein Leonard and Kyle Lowry have each missed vital time, and wherein Gasol and Lin have solely simply arrived, what the Raptors have turn out to be.
The workforce that was routinely strafed by the Cavaliers at playoff time is now shot via with guys who’ve been all-defence gamers. The workforce that has at all times lacked a crunch-time scorer who may discover his shot in opposition to powerful defence has, in Leonard, simply that sort of participant. The workforce that for years preached depth and continuity is about to embark on two months of trial and error wherein head coach Nick Nurse figures out what to do along with his new gamers, and likewise his newer gamers, and even his latest gamers. These are fairly clearly not the Identical Outdated Raptors, however now they only should show it.
The Raptors mentioned goodbye to DeMar DeRozan on Friday evening. It was a wierd second. The gang beloved him, cheering him each time he touched the ball within the early going, even celebrating his baskets. Some habits are exhausting to interrupt. After the video tribute that constructed to a Thank You DeMar end and a picture of DeRozan, beaming and resplendent in his previous crimson jersey, the place went nuts, and DeRozan got here out to midcourt to wave his appreciation. The cheers and chants continued, DeRozan tried to concentrate on listening to his coaches, and his previous teammates teased him somewhat. He waved to the group as soon as extra when he returned to the courtroom, in all probability glad to have that enterprise over with.
It was an area full of individuals saluting a beloved participant for what he has performed right here. It was loud, it was celebratory, it was trustworthy.
It additionally felt rather a lot like the entire of Raptors fandom imagining, for a minute, what may need been.