DeRozan showed his old team what it was missing — and you know he meant to make a statement.
Prior to Jan. 3, 2019, DeMar DeRozan never had a triple double in his nine-and-a-half year NBA career. It’s pretty incredible when you think about it. The all-time leading scorer in Toronto Raptorshistory, who evolved into a playmaker last season and has continued his growth this year, never had double-digit assists and rebounds to accompany a big scoring night.
It gives you a greater appreciation for a guy like Russell Westbrook, who’s averaging a triple double for a third consecutive season. It also gives you a greater appreciation for DeRozan’s remarkable performance against his old team, the Toronto Raptors, on Thursday night.
Against the team that traded him after telling him they wouldn’t, DeRozan played the game of his life. He wanted to go for 50, but instead settled for 21 points, 11 assists and 14 rebounds, each basket seemed more electrifying than the next. His heartfelt, emotional performance propelled the Spurs to a 125-107 win over the Raptors in a game they led as many as 28.
Kawhi Leonard’s return to San Antonio dominated the headlines before the game, but DeRozan’s standout performance in his first game against his old team was the story after it.
You have to remember what DeRozan left behind
He helped build the Raptors into the perennial playoff and championship contender they are today. Had it not been for LeBron James, Toronto could have been in the NBA Finals in any number of seasons. Unfortunately for the Raptors, James existed dominantly in the Eastern Conference for over a decade, ruining their hopes in 2016 and 2018.
DeRozan and Kyle Lowry were best friends, and they and the city of Toronto fed off one another. DeRozan signed a five-year, $139 million contract extension in the summer of 2016, all without taking another free-agent meeting.
Two years later, it abruptly ended. He was traded to San Antonio for a player who was considered an upgrade, after he was told by management he wouldn’t be dealt. Toronto had unfinished business in an Eastern Conference that no longer had to worry about LeBron James, so it appeared this could have finally been his time to shine for his adopted home.
He never got the chance to find out, because Toronto made the business decision to move on. They fired the coach of the year in Dwane Casey, then moved DeRozan after the best season of his career.
So it’s especially poetic that in DeRozan’s first game against the Raptors in a Spurs jersey, he put up the first triple double of his career. He had Thursday night’s game circled on his calendar. He almost certainly has his return to Toronto on Feb. 22 highlighted, too.