This year the Spurs are celebrating their 50th season in San Antonio. There have been many highs and a few lows. One trademark of the San Antonio Spurs has been their culture and their consistency. The keys to those qualities lie in their players. Always noted for development as well as being ahead of the curve on scouting international players, the Spurs way has made the franchise one of the most successful of all time. As we look back on the Silver & Black, we recognize the top 50 players in Spurs history. Each day, we will move up the countdown.
For better or worse, and fairly or not, DeMar DeRozan will always have a unique place in Spurs lore. He never asked to be here, but instead was traded to the Spurs from his beloved Toronto Raptors as part of the Kawhi Leonard trade, which already put him between a rock and a hard place with Spurs fans. While they were ready to welcome him with open arms and move on from the chaos Leonard had put them through, DeRozan was being asked to fill the shoes of naturally superior player, and it just didn’t work out, even if it wasn’t all his fault.
He was tasked with making an awkward combination with fellow midrange star LaMarcus Aldridge work, and while they were able stretch the Spurs’ record playoff streak into its 22nd season in DeRozan’s first season here, the Spurs only managed to make the play-in the next two seasons before he agreed to a sign-and-trade between the Spurs and Bulls to help them get some assets for him return as they moved on to a new era.
It was never a perfect marriage, but DeRozan should still be remembered fondly for his time in San Antonio. He did whatever was asked of him, whether that was being the main scorer or creator, and played whatever position they needed him to. He wasn’t afraid to take over games late when the young Spurs otherwise didn’t have a closer, and his presence was missed in that regard for much of last season once he was gone. His midrange game was old school, and his lack of a three-point shot and defensive instincts despite his length was maddening at times, but he still gave the Spurs all he had despite the unideal situation he was forced into.
My favorite memory of him will always be the “Kawhi Leonard return game” in 2019, which the Spurs dominated 125-107. DeRozan wasn’t amazing in that game, hitting 7-15 shots for 21 points, but he played like a man on a mission, beginning with this nasty dunk early in the game that fired up the crowd and almost immediately sucked the soul out of his old team.
While Leonard also merely had an okay game from a stats standpoint, he looked uncomfortable in the suddenly hostile confines of the AT&T Center. The Spurs have had some fun moments since then, but this game was extremely enjoyable, satisfying and in a way therapeutic for everyone in San Antonio on that particular day, from the players to the fans.
DeRozan was never the right fit for the Spurs, and now he is mainly seen as simply having stalled the Spurs’ rebuilding process, but that should never be held against him. He was only here for three seasons, but he gave all he had and has had nothing but good things to say about the organization since he left. That’s more than can be said for a lot of players who have been thrown into similar situations, and Spurs fans should always be grateful for his contributions to the club.
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