"I am Toronto," DeRozan said at the time. "Outside of where I'm from, I represent this city harder than anybody. I've got so many goals I want to accomplish still. I just can't wait to put that jersey back on and keep going."
The former Raptor and new Spur recently sat down in the ESPN Los Angeles offices to discuss the circumstances of the trade, how he found out about it, what the city and fans of Toronto mean to him, and his excitement of joining San Antonio.
Here is a transcript, edited for length, from the interview.
Chris Haynes: DeMar DeRozan, the newest member of the San Antonio Spurs. What was this past week like for you?
DeMar DeRozan: Man, it was a blur. It was a dream ... still kind of feel like a dream right now. But it's been tough having this roller coaster -- up and down -- just trying to get acclimated to changing teams.
CH: It caught a lot of people off-guard. Looked like it caught you off-guard as well. Masai Ujiri, the Raptors GM, came out in a news conference and said it was a gap in communication: that he spoke with you during summer league in Las Vegas and thinks his mistake was talking to you about what to expect moving forward with the organization. From your standpoint, is that an accurate assessment of that conversation?
DD: Um, no, because all summer through the talks we had -- through the talks he had with my agent -- you know, it seemed like I was in that discussion of moving forward with the team. My whole approach every summer was preparing, going out there and supporting the young guys at summer league, figuring out ways I can be better, make my team better, and that was the gist of the conversations we had with moving forward. Having the opportunity to do something special all over again, you know? So that was my mindset and everybody around me's mindset as well.
CH: In that same news conference, he talked about how he gave the team a chance when he took his role. Do you think it was necessary for the organization to make that move and trade you? Why didn't things work out?
DD: I mean, when you say "them," that's kind of frustrating. Like, who is "them"? You put the blame on just me and Casey? Because obviously we are the only two who had to suffer from the loss that we had in the Cleveland series. But it's only one team that we lost to in the postseason -- and that team went to the [NBA] Finals every single year. With an opportunity approaching itself, my mindset and the rest of my teammates' mindset was the only guy who was in the way of making that happen leaves. Now we got a great opportunity to do something that we haven't been able to do. At the end of the day, I gave everything I had to that team. And it showed, it showed in the progress we made as a team and me as an individual. So when you put that out there saying "gave them chances" and "I have to do something" ... it's B.S. to me.
CH: You and Masai go way back. Did that hurt you more, the fact that you did have that relationship with him?
DD: No question. I mean, when you use the word "family," "brother" or whatever, things other people use lightly ... for me, once you use that term, I stick by that term. I stand by that term. So whether it's something I like or don't like, I'm going to accept it if you come to me and let me know beforehand. But don't make one thing seem like another thing and catch me off-guard and do something else. That was my whole problem. I understand how the game works, how the business works. My mindset was that I was always going to be in Toronto my whole career, but I was never naive. Just let me know. That's where my frustration came from. And I think it showed. From the fans to even myself -- it just caught me completely off-guard.
CH: How do you feel you were treated particularly by Masai Ujiri?
DD: I felt like I wasn't treated with what I sacrificed for nine years, with the respect that I thought I deserved. By just giving me the say so of letting me know something's going on or it's a chance. That's all I wanted. That's all I wanted. I'm not saying, 'You don't have to trade me' or ... just let me know something is going on because I sacrificed everything. Just let me know. That's all I asked. Everybody know I'm the most low-maintenance person in the world. Just let me know, so I can prepare myself for whatever my next chapter is, and I didn't get that.
CH: Did you ask if you were going to be traded?
DD: I asked, 'Was I going to be traded? Was there anything going on, if it was a chance I'd be traded?' And on multiple occasions it was, 'No, it was nothing.' If it is, then let the agent know or me know.
CH: What were your emotions when you first heard?
DD: Man, I was really stuck. I couldn't think for a second because it just didn't feel real. I didn't have no indication like it would be something else. If I knew that, I wouldn't have reacted the way I did. I would have been prepared for it. But it caught me completely off-guard because I'm thinking this is another summer. Move forward. I talked to my teammates every single day how we can get better. So to hit me with that at midnight out the blue, like, c'mon. Two days prior, it was asked, 'Is anything going on?' If it is, just let me know because the rumors keep coming up. Two days later, you're going here.
CH: In 2016, when you were a free agent, most people thought you were going to be Lakers-bound. Going back to your hometown. We're here in Los Angeles right now. That didn't happen. You didn't even take a meeting with the team. Toronto has a hard time attracting marquee free agents, and the team has had a hard time retaining some of its stars. Why was it so important for you to re-sign and not even look elsewhere?
DD: Day 1 when I was drafted to the Toronto Raptors, they had this stigma on them: Every guy leaves, nobody wants to be here, superstars, nobody wants to play in Canada. From Day 1, my whole mindset and approach to the game, being in Toronto, was I wanted to change that whole narrative to that whole organization. That's why I work my butt off like I did. That's why I push, that's why I repped so hard to get that stigma off it. And that was another example in my career where I could prove that by not having to meet with nobody else. Get this done within the first 30 minutes of free agency and keep moving. That was always my mindset and approach, and you could tell by the connection I have with the fans. I never thought about elsewhere, I never mentioned elsewhere. I love that place. It's literally my second home.
CH: In that contract year, 2016, is it true that you were asked to take less money to better the team?
DD: I asked, 'What can I do to help?' I didn't want to put us in no jam where we wouldn't be able to help the team by bringing in other guys. I didn't want to just ask for the max. I wanted to do whatever I could to make sure anything we needed to have down the line, we could have. It was always sacrificing for the betterment of the team. I made it clear I wanted to be there. Now, what can I do to help? That was my mindset.
CH: Did you feel like things were done to help facilitate the growth of the team after you took that sacrifice?
DD: Yeah. That next season, we did better than the previous season. And that gave me comfort of understanding we could keep capitalizing on what we didn't do the prior year. We set so many records. There's not a year within the last five years where it wasn't a record set. That speaks volumes.
"When you put that out there saying 'gave them chances' and 'I have to do something'... It's B.S. to me."San Antonio Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan
CH: Vince Carter. Tracy McGrady. Chris Bosh. The list goes on. But when people think about "Mr. Raptor," you're the name that pops up. Did you envision a scenario in which this could happen?
DD: To be honest with you, no. No. I was so mentally in this being my home. I took pride in the community. I took pride in everything when it came to Canada. Not even just Toronto, everything that came with Canada, wearing that Toronto Raptors jersey. That's why it was so tough and emotional for me when I first heard it because everybody knows what type of guy I am. It showed when I went out there and played. Whether it was for the good or for the bad, I took it like a man.
CH: When word got out that you were being dealt to San Antonio, it was an outpouring of players tweeting, instagramming, saying how DeMar was done wrong or he should have a statue outside Air Canada Centre. When you saw that from your peers, what was that experience like?
DD: Man, it was probably one of the most overwhelming situations in my career. To see your peers, how they view you with a certain organization. A lot of guys ... I don't even have their number. We're not even cool. But to see that ... it speaks for itself. It was great to have that type of support from your peers, something that carries a long way. It was definitely an honor.
CH: Have you talked to Kyle Lowry?
DD: Yeah, I talk to Kyle every day.
CH: What was that conversation like initially?
DD: I remember when I found out it was 12 a.m. in L.A. I blew his phone up. He was in Philly. It was 3 o'clock in the morning. Blowing his phone up 'til he answered. He answered, and I told him, and you could tell he was sleeping. He was like, 'What?' He just sounded out of it. My phone was going crazy. I said, 'Imma hit you, man. It ain't out yet. It'll be out in the morning.' I woke up in the morning. He sent me a long text. He couldn't believe it. But he gave me some words that helped me through the whole day, what to prepare for. As him just being my brother, outside of my teammate, he was there for me in that moment. You could tell it affected him as well, so it was cool just to have that support from him.
CH: Is there anything that you could share that sticks out about what he told you?
DD: Nah, I'll let him do it at some point. He hasn't said nothing. He didn't even want to put no [social media] posts up because whenever he speaks, it's definitely going to be something that's from the heart.
CH: What were your thoughts initially about going to San Antonio?
DD: I mean, I'm still in shock.
DD: I'm still in shock. Second person I talked to that night, that I'm close friends with, was Rudy Gay. I was upset. And I called him, like, 'Man, dude's just traded me.' Rudy was like, 'What? To who?' And I was like, 'To y'all.' He started laughing. He said, 'Look, I don't mean to lie, but I got my boy back. You gon' be aight, man. Don't worry about it.' I was like, 'Man, I shouldn't have called you. I should have waited until it came out and you called me.' It was cool to be able to call somebody that's close in my life that's on the Spurs too. So he made it easy.
CH: And you guys recently played on the same Drew League team?
DD: Yeah, and he wanted to do that. So that was his idea. It was cool.
CH: There's going to be another transition: playing for Coach Casey and going to play for Coach Pop. I know you're going to Team USA, to minicamp, and Coach Pop is coaching that. What are your expectations playing for Coach Pop?
DD: I've always been a fan of Pop. There was just something about him from the way he ran his team, the way he coached, his credibility. Everything that stands out about Pop, you just have to love. So to have this opportunity to play with a legendary coach at this point in my career, I think it's one of those blessings that's in disguise because this is a cool moment to be with a guy like that. I've been with Case for the majority of my career. He gave me the ultimate freedom to be myself. First thing Case said to me when the move was made is I'm going to love Pop. To hear that from my coach, on the transition to my new coach, just makes it easy.
CH: Every summer, every offseason, you make sure you work on one particular part of your game. What is that this summer, now that you're making this switch?
DD: This time around, I think it's going to be hell for a lot of people. No question.
CH: Why so, DeMar?
DD: Just this whole transition of making this move, it kind of makes you look back at your career in the sense of what points you could've been better at, how you could have been better at it, the success that you had, the failures that you had. And you kind of accumulate all that into a ball of motivation and hunger and kind of frustration, on top of this situation happening. I'm going to start from the bottom, to show why I've been the player I've been, but this time, with a whole different level of "I don't care about nothing else."
CH: What will you most remember about your time as a Toronto Raptor?
DD: What I'll most remember? It's so hard to say one particular moment because I can name a million things. From the fans to All-Star [Game] being there to making the playoffs to seeing Jurassic Park for the first time. It's something I'll never forget, and without a doubt, it's no replacing Toronto in my heart and my mindset. Because like I said, I put it all and laid it all out there. And, you know, just to see people talk about, even just mentioning me as the greatest player in Raptors history? Come on, man, that's an honor. I'm 28 years old, and you're putting me in that category? It's amazing.
CH: Did Drake reach out?
DD: Yeah, day it came out, I went to Drake's house. Me and him sat and talked for a couple of hours. Not even on some hoops stuff. Just to hear the words that come from him being the person that he is in this world, especially in Toronto. What I meant to this city. It was what I needed.
CH: What are the Spurs getting in a player of DeMar DeRozan's caliber?
DD: A guy that's been proven to prove himself time and time again -- this time around having the biggest chip on his shoulder ever.