There have been a lot of surprising teams in this young NBA season. Some for bad reasons, like the bottom-dwelling Pelicans, and some for good ones, like the East-leading Wizards.
Among the latter group are DeMar DeRozan’s Bulls. The former Spur has been fantastic in Chicago, even garnering some early MVP buzz. Unless something unexpected happens, he will at least surely be an All-Star after not getting the nod for the three years he was in San Antonio.
DeRozan’s success probably stings a little for some Spurs fans, and might be even causing others to reevaluate whether moving on from him was a good idea after all. It’s never fun when a player that leaves becomes a media darling and finds more success than he did in San Antonio, but it’s important to remember that parting ways was the best for both franchise and player.
Now, there are two gripes about what’s going on in Chicago that are understandable and mostly fair. The first has little to do with DeRozan and everything to do with how his performances are appreciated now by national media and the general public when they were mostly ignored when he was a Spur. DeRozan is averaging 26 points, five rebounds and four assists with excellent efficiency, so he deserves to be praised. But the same people who now talk about him as a legitimate star didn’t have much to say when he was in San Antonio, where over the course of three seasons he averaged 21 points, five rebounds and six assists while shooting over 50 percent from the field. Bigger markets and team success affect how a player is perceived, but it seems like a lot of people forgot DeRozan existed when he joined the Spurs and are now magically rediscovering him, which is a little annoying.
The second gripe does involve DeRozan and how he’s buying in like he never did with the Spurs when it comes to taking three-pointers. He shot a total of 154 outside shots in three years in San Antonio and is on pace to fire 205 in his first season in Chicago — provided he doesn’t miss time and keeps letting them fly at the same rate. The fact that he’s been hitting threes at a career-high level is surely encouraging DeRozan to pull the trigger more, but just the act of taking them is a big step forward for the star wing, one he was not willing to commit to with the Spurs despite the team’s obvious limitations in that area in his time here. It’s likely DeRozan eventually regresses and starts shooting below league average, which could then result in him taking fewer attempts, but his willingness to try to be more productive off the ball immediately with the Bulls could understandably cause some resentment.
Beyond those rather minor issues, there’s no reason to be anything but happy about DeRozan’s current success. The man was as good if not better when he was with the Spurs, so this is not a situation in which someone essentially doesn’t try after being traded to a place he didn’t choose and then uses that saved energy elsewhere. (Hey, Blake Griffin!) DeRozan was a good locker presence as well, by all accounts. We don’t really know if the Spurs even tried to retain him, but the sign-and-trade that sent him to Chicago looks really good for San Antonio even now, as they got Thaddeus Young and draft capital out of it. Whether the Spurs should have traded for him in the first place is a topic that has been discussed at length, but San Antonio did get to extend its playoff streak for an extra year and got to the play-in largely thanks to his play.
As for DeRozan and how he views his time with the Spurs, it’s hard to imagine many bad memories. Even though the way he was traded to San Antonio hurt him, the franchise and the fanbase embraced him, and he’s had nothing but good things to say about it. Pop tailored the team to his style and made him the first option, like he had been most of his career, instead of trying to change him. All the good developments to his game that started in Toronto and are now paying off for the Bulls, continued while he was wearing Silver and Black. DeRozan played in three guard lineups as the small forward a lot, like he did with the Raptors when Fred VanVleet became an impact player. His evolution as a playmaker was actually boosted in the past three seasons. In San Antonio, he actually learned how to hide at power forward on defense, at least to a degree. DeRozan’s time with the Spurs lacked the individual accolades he was used to, but it was clearly positive for his game.
There will always be mixed feelings about the Spurs and DeRozan joining paths in the first place, because they were probably not a good match from the start, considering where the organization was left after the Kawhi Leonard debacle and the stage of DeMar’s career. But both parties tried their best to make it work before parting ways as amicably as possible and are now thriving. DeRozan is on a roster better suit for his style, where his gifts as a scorer can lift a team up, while the Spurs are finally trying to see what they have in their young core and potentially setting themselves up to pick near the top of the draft.
It’s completely fine to see DeRozan hitting a big shot and getting a little nostalgic, but there should be no room for what ifs from Spurs fans. Keeping DeRozan — if it was possible at all — wouldn’t have been a good idea. The timing and the fit just weren’t right.
There is a team that let a player that could have helped them tremendously join the Bulls, but it’s not the Spurs. So let’s be happy for DeMar and focus on what’s really important: laughing at the Lakers for not keeping Alex Caruso. What was that about, Rob Pelinka?