The demise of the Bulls’ DeMar DeRozan remains highly exaggerated

Sure, DeRozan was great last year, but he couldn’t do it again at age 33, right? There would have to be a regression. Or not.

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The Bulls’ DeMar DeRozan shoots over Caleb Martin of the Miami Heat during the second half on Oct. 19, 2022 in Miami.

“I have no clue where people get that from,” the Bulls’ DeMar DeRozan said of the perceived decline that his game was supposed to take.

Eric Espada/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — DeMar DeRozan knew the narrative and heard it often last offseason after he joined the Bulls in an August sign-and-trade.

Too old. Best years behind him.

DeMar who?

His response: Shove a career year in everyone’s face.

DeRozan finished with a career-high 27.9-point scoring average, was picked as an Eastern Conference All-Star and was at one point in the conversation for league MVP, all of which should have silenced his critics. But the same kind of talk returned heading into this season.

Sure, DeRozan was great last year, but he couldn’t do it again at age 33, right? There would have to be a regression.

Or not. He started the season by scoring 37 points for the undermanned Bulls in a 116-108 victory Wednesday night in Miami.

What about that expected decline?

“I have no clue where people get that from,” DeRozan said. “In all seriousness, I don’t even know where you base that off or get it from. I know what I put into this game in the offseason, how much I love this game. I can assure you that not many guys in this league work as hard as I do. With that alone, those statements are b.s. as it is.”

Maybe the low expectations come from DeRozan playing in Toronto all those years, or from him being unable to get past LeBron James and the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference. Or maybe it was being traded to the Spurs after their dynasty years and seemingly falling off the map for three seasons.

“I can’t answer for someone else’s perception,” DeRozan said. “I learned so much in San Antonio that made me this person that I am today. [Coach Gregg Popovich] gave me a different perception of how to approach the game, and I’ve got the honor to say I’ve played for one of the greatest coaches of all time. In that moment, it probably looked like I was taking a back seat or whatever it may be, but I learned so much from that.”

The Bulls’ locker room has been reaping the rewards of his study under Popovich. When news broke Wednesday that All-Star guard Zach LaVine would miss the opener because of trouble with his left knee, it was DeRozan who made sure no one hung their head.

Then, in the second half against the Heat, he took over. His nine points and four assists in the first half grew to 28 points and eight assists entering the fourth quarter as DeRozan went 7-for-9 in giving the Bulls a 10-point lead.

“That’s expected, my m.o.,” DeRozan said. “Beginning of the game, help us get shots, then kind of walk the game down. When it gets to that time to win the game, I try and go out and do my job to the best of my ability.”

While LaVine may be the face of the team, DeRozan remains its heart. His detractors seem to be missing that. His coach sure isn’t. Billy Donovan chalked up DeRozan’s performance in the opener to “the amount of time he’s spent with Kobe Bryant and past great ones, his whole routine, the grind he puts himself through the entire summer, [which] prepares him for these situations.”

It also gives DeRozan the armor to laugh off the critics.

“[Criticism] won’t change the way that I approach the game, my passion for the game, things I put in,” he said. “They can say what they want. Everybody has freedom of speech, right?”

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