It’s not as if Monday was DeMar DeRozan’s first trip back to Toronto to face the organization that raised him. It was actually his third time returning.
But 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 ninth overall 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.”
That’s not always the case with Toronto. Most NBA players don’t intend to stay long up north — in fact, there’s a history of players publicly complaining about being a Raptor, whether it’s the idea of not being seen as much, the taxes or the hassle of going through customs for every road trip.
DeRozan, however, did all he could to counter that, not only on the court — he made the All-Star team four times and reached the Eastern Conference Finals in 2016 — but by preaching the positives to other players.
“My whole mindset was to change that narrative when I was in Toronto,” he 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 [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.”
It stung him when the Raptors traded him to the Spurs for Kawhi Leonard in 2018. Good thing he forgives easily.
“That’s all I knew getting drafted to the NBA — Toronto,” he said. “I wanted to make sure everyone saw it the way I did.”
DeRozan will visit Toronto again when the Bulls return Dec. 16.
Tony Bradley and Derrick Jones Jr. were solid offseason acquisitions, expected to add serious depth to a frontcourt that lacked bodies. But four games into the season, they remain out of the rotation.
Where do they fit in the plans?
“One, it’s obviously a long year,” coach Billy Donovan said. “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.”