In a culture where perfect becomes the enemy of the very good, DeMar DeRozan’s struggle is an interesting contrast. DeRozan has pushed tirelessly against his ceiling only to continuously be surpassed by an elite few. Still, he fights. It’s an entirely relatable battle that makes him perfect for the San Antonio Spurs.
Steph Curry’s relatively slight frame gives the illusion of an everyman vantage point into the league. LeBron James’ social media brilliance gives an air of accessibility. It can be argued, no one is more relatable than DeRozan.
There’s a vulnerable, human element he shows on and off the court. He is a star who wears his struggles on his sleeve, making waves last season when he opened up about his battles with depression to The Star.
“It’s one of them things that, no matter how indestructible we look like we are, we’re all human at the end of the day, we all got feelings…all of that. Sometimes…it gets the best of you, where times everything in the whole world‘s on top of you.”
DeRozan came into the league as a promising top 10 pick in the 2009 NBA Draft and has fulfilled almost every pre-draft expectation. He became the face of the Toronto Raptors franchise during its most historic run and is a two-time All-NBA player. Still, he’s evaluated more for all he isn’t more than what he is.
He didn’t morph into the megastar fellow draftmates Steph Curry and James Harden did. He hasn’t cemented a place amongst the top five players in the league, or led his team to an NBA Finals.
DeRozan’s entrance into the league came just before the most revolutionary era in basketball. His skill set was valued when he was drafted. But as he worked to build his strengths, the NBA was morphing into a different beast that would exacerbate his weaknesses.
As a rookie, he flashed just enough to justify him as an intriguing pick in limited playing time. In his second year, his scoring average exploded from 8.6 points per game to 17.2 after Chris Bosh left the Raptors for the Miami Heat. Though he showed glimpses of being a more cerebral scorer, asking a second-year player to fill shoes even Bosh struggled to fit into was a lot.
In a bigger role, DeRozan’s weaknesses became more pronounced, shooting abysmally from the perimeter and failing to be an impactful defender.
Like ninety-eight percent of the rest of the league, DeRozan failed to carry his team to any prominence. It wasn’t until the arrival of Kyle Lowry and the departure of Rudy Gay that Toronto struck a healthy balance.
In the backcourt’s second season together, DeRozan’s game made a significant leap. He was awarded with his first trip to the All-Star game and would never fail to reach the playoffs again, making the All-NBA team in each of the past two seasons.
With success came even more scrutiny, however.
When the Raptors failed to reach the second round in DeRozan’s first two playoff runs, he and Lowry’s failures were thrust into the spotlight. Particularly DeRozan. He was a mid-range shooter who could light up a box score, but failed to make huge defensive plays when it mattered. People questioned how far the duo could take the Raptors, even after making the Eastern Conference Finals. Many touted DeRozan as a key component to Toronto’s failures.
DeRozan’s legacy has been pegged by his failures against LeBron James—the greatest wall the Eastern Conference has faced since Michal Jordan—and his inefficiencies, with a skill set viewed as outdated in today’s NBA.
In an era where all analysis shift towards value and extremes, DeRozan’s deficiencies were exaggerated by the signing of a five-year, $139 million contract after taking LeBron James and the eventual NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers to six games.
Last season, DeRozan didn’t redefine his game, but tweaked its utility. He returned from playoffs failures as he does every season, with a little more added to his game via a summer of hard work.
When DeRozan’s absolute peak faltered against LeBron James once again, the Raptors finally pulled the trigger on a trade, sending DeRozan to San Antonio in return for embattled superstar Kawhi Leonard.
It was an ugly breakup for many reasons. Not just because DeRozan entrenched himself in the Toronto community for nine seasons, winning the Magic Johnson award for community service; but because front office executives expressed to him he would not be traded just a week earlier.
The Raptors made a smart basketball move, getting a franchise-altering player at the price of the star who helped build Toronto into a respectful franchise. DeRozan was, and still is, hurt by the team’s actions.
Maybe his legacy will take a turn as DeRozan enters a new stage with the Spurs, playing in a system that has remained effective for over a decade under the greatest coach the game has ever seen.
But even if all remains the same, what shouldn’t go unappreciated is his impact as a human and teammate. The city of Toronto has endeared him, with fans and former teammates calling for statues to be built outside the arena.
The admiration of his peers speaks volumes. It also brings out his seamless comparison to non-athletes who follow him closely. DeRozan has always been very good, but never the best. He may have hit his ceiling in relation to his elite peers, but that never stops him from trying to work past it.
Opening up with his battles with depression not only received great support, but provided a gateway for others to do the same.
He seems to be the type of person we all can relate to as someone who is very, very good at their job but still feels crushed by extreme expectations. Someone who has grown into their own but still feels the pressure to be better. On top of that, he’s someone who makes it a point to give back to others and be an enjoyable presence—a contrast to the player he’s replacing.
DeMar DeRozan will never be MVP, or amongst the best to ever play, but he has proven to be special. He hasn’t made the impact we value on the court, but he leaves behind a formidable legacy in Toronto, where he safely put himself amount the franchise’s best. In San Antonio, he’ll continue to battle criticism while finding success. But there is no such thing as make for break for him anymore because DeRozan has developed himself as the best basketball player and person he can be.
The should be enough fo find appreciation for him.