DeMar DeRozan Still a Winner in the Kawhi Leonard Trade

DeMar DeRozan

Although he’s currently sitting on the couch watching his former team compete with the Golden State Warriors for an NBA Championship, DeMar DeRozan is still a winner in the infamous trade that occurred last July. It may not seem like it, given his former team is in the Finals and he’s simply a spectator, but DeRozan couldn’t have wished for a better situation. If he had stayed in Toronto, he would have faced the same fate. A great regular season then another failure in the playoffs, crushing the spirit of Raptors’ fans once again. DeRozan could have never succeeded in Toronto. He is, quite frankly, not good enough to lead that team. With San Antonio, DeMar DeRozan now has the opportunity to create a new legacy.

Make no mistake, the Raptors are still the biggest winner in this trade. They were going nowhere with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan leading the way. This trade needed to happen. Even if Kawhi Leonard leaves this offseason and they are forced to rebuild, reaching their first NBA finals was well worth the cost. He is the perfect star for this team. Leonard has proven to be a sensational player even after suffering a mysterious injury last season. He is undoubtedly a top 2 player in the entire league. Any chance to get a player like this is worth the cost.

As for DeMar, most fans outside of Toronto see him as a choker and nothing else. He is now 29 years old and will need to hurry to achieve the playoff success that will place him a step above other great scorers. Luckily, the Spurs have arguably the best coaching staff in the NBA. With the return of Dejounte Murray, the continued progression of Derrick White, and the potential of Lonnie Walker IV this team should be headed to their 22nd straight playoff appearance. Another benefit of being with the Spurs is access to their shooting coaches. DeMar has never been a good shooter and simply didn’t attempt threes this season, averaging just 0.6 attempts a game. After a full offseason of training, we may see a completely different player. DeMar is in the best situation possible. He is on a playoff team and gets to learn from great coaches.

DeMar DeRozan’s 2019 Playoffs: 22.0 PPG (49/00/86), 4.6 APG, 6.7 RPG, 1.1 SPG

Already, DeMar fits better in San Antonio than he did in Toronto. In this year’s playoffs, DeMar scored 22 points per game on 49% shooting. He also had a playoff career low in turnovers. Although his team didn’t come out with a win in the series, they took a talented Nuggets team to 7 games. With continued progression, DeMar has the chance to finally remove the “choker” label fans have placed on him in the upcoming postseasons. This playoff series marked his most efficient postseason by far (his FG% increased by 5%), while averaging just 0.7 fewer points than his postseason career high. He also didn’t have any terrible performance, scoring 17+ points every game and shooting under 40% just once. If he continues to improve under the tutelage of Coach Popovich, who knows how much better he could become.

DeMar DeRozan also benefits from his contract situation. He will be a free agent in 2020, assuming he declines his player option. This gives him the freedom and flexibility to finish his prime on the team of his choice. If he was never traded, it’s more than possible he would have wanted to stay loyal to Toronto, even if they continued to falter in the playoffs. Now DeMar is free to make the best decision for himself. The free agent class of 2020 is relatively weak, so he will likely get a max contract anywhere he wants. Teams such as the Lakers, Magic, Nets, Pacers, Hawks, Knicks, and Clippers could have room for him depending on what happens this offseason.

2020 Cap Projections

While none of these teams are currently atop their conference, they have enough young talent to reach that point with the addition of DeRozan. Leading a relatively young team on a deep playoff run could be the final piece to secure DeMar’s legacy. Furthermore, once the young talent on those teams mature they could help DeMar reach even more playoff success.

Looking from afar it isn’t obvious, but DeRozan is infinitely better off after being traded. The Raptors were never going to win with him as the number one option. Staying there would of only prolonged is misery. The trade forced DeRozan to rip off the band-aid and look ahead to the rest of the possibilities in his career. DeRozan has the best opportunity to improve his skills in San Antonio before searching for the perfect team in 2020. He is an incredible player and took the young Raptor’s franchise to new heights, but that era is now over. Hopefully, he finishes his career in a way that allows fans to remember him for something besides his shortcomings in the playoffs. This trade gave him the opportunity. Only time will tell if he will be able to capitalize.

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