TORONTO — A franchise leader in points and games played. A leader as popular with fans as he was with teammates. A Raptor to the core and a man who loved Toronto.
DeMar DeRozan left the only NBA franchise he has ever known Wednesday, shipped to the San Antonio Spurs in a blockbuster trade that sent star forward Kawhi Leonard to the Raptors.
The departure of the nine-year veteran had some former teammates calling for a DeRozan statue to be erected outside Scotiabank Arena. Fans, politicians and NBA players chimed in on the trade news and rapper/actor Drake weighed in with a lengthy Instagram post.
DeRozan, a four-time all-star, was everything a team could want in a franchise player. He was a leader on and off the court and a true professional.
Drafted by the Raptors in 2009, he quickly became a regular starter and guided the team to the playoffs in each of the last five seasons. But despite his best effort, he was unable to get his team to the NBA Finals.
“To my brother @demar_derozan I want to say 10 million thank you’s on behalf of YOUR city. You are a fixture in Toronto forever and you gave everything you had,” said Drake, who’s also a team ambassador for the Raptors. “Through your leadership we had the most exciting years in franchise history. I am grateful to have witnessed your combination of skill, persistence, and loyalty from the same seats every night. Thank you for being an incredible captain and an even better friend.
“To Kawhi…we look forward to a this new chapter and we welcome you to the most intense and supportive city in NBA basketball!!! You have always been a poised clinical warrior and I can’t wait to see how Toronto inspires your fight. Let’s Go Raptors.”
DeRozan was named the winner of this year’s Magic Johnson Award, an honour presented annually to the NBA player who best combines excellence on the court with media and public co-operation.
“Mad respect for @DeMar_DeRozan a classy player who has given his heart to a franchise,” tweeted New York Knicks centre Enes Kanter. “One of the most loyal players I know. Giving you away for nothing.. @Raptors.”
The tweets came in fast and furious when reports surfaced that a deal was imminent and again when the trade was confirmed in the early afternoon.
“Man. Loved everything about @DeMar_DeRozan’s game and passion for the city,” said Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman. “Going to miss showing up to the ACC, watch him go for 40 with the smoothest mid-range game in the league. Wishing you nothing but the best my brother. Respect everything you represent and stand for!”
Toronto Mayor John Tory also weighed in on Twitter.
“On the court, in the community, and in the hearts of @Raptors fans, @DeMar_DeRozan has been an incredible part of Toronto. On behalf of the whole city, thank you and all the best in San Antonio.”
Former teammate Terrence Ross tweeted a post that was capped by a Canada flag emoji.
“Dear fans of Toronto, It’s time you guys build a statue of @DeMar_DeRozan Regardless of what happens. He deserves it.”
The idea was supported by Toronto city councillor Norm Kelly.
“Agreed. We have the Maple Leafs Legends Row, so why not Raptors legends? DeMar DeRozan and Vince Carter should be the first,” Kelly tweeted.
DeRozan leaves the Raptors as the franchise’s all-time leader in points (13,296), field goals made (4,716), free throws made (3,539) and games played (675). He represented Toronto at the NBA all-star game in four of the last five years.
Rumblings of a potential Leonard-to-Toronto deal had gained steam in recent days. DeRozan, who has three years left on his contract, sent an Instagram post early Wednesday that sounded like he didn’t expect to be on his way out.
“Be told one thing & the outcome another,” he said. “Can’t trust em. Ain’t no loyalty in this game. Sell you out quickly for a little bit of nothing.”
His Twitter feed remained quiet Wednesday afternoon. His bio was updated to remove a Toronto reference and simply say “Born and raised in Compton.”
A profile picture of DeRozan wearing a No. 10 Blue Jays uniform remained.
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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press