Bulls Insider

DeRozan pays respect to Popovich in San An return


DeMar DeRozan believed he would be with the Toronto Raptors for his entire career.

So when the franchise made the surprising decision to trade him for Kawhi Leonard in 2018, the move stung.

DeRozan’s feelings had nothing to do with San Antonio or the Spurs franchise, which he faces Friday night for the first time since leaving for the Bulls in last offseason’s sign-and-trade agreement.

In fact, DeRozan’s game and leadership developed new skills during his three seasons there.

“I was growing,” DeRozan said. “You know, you kind of get knocked down from being traded from the situation you thought you wanted to be in for your whole career and you kind of have to start over in every type of way. You have to just soak in so much, so much new information so quick and it was one of those moments for me feeling like I was just growing, like it was a new complete situation for me overall.

“The things I was dealing with off the court was a lot. And basketball, it was a different stage of me just trying to figure it out and me willing to take on whatever was coming my way. And that’s what I did. I didn’t get caught up in what was going on the outside of things. I just stayed locked in and tried to figure out how could I continue to get better. It got me to this point.”

DeRozan averaged 21.6 points and 6.2 assists in his three seasons with the Spurs. The assists average doubled his average from his nine seasons with the Raptors.

That DeRozan accomplished this while taking days to fly home to California consistently to visit his ailing father, Frank, speaks volumes. Both about him and a Spurs organization long known for valuing the life-basketball balance.

DeRozan has credited Spurs coach Gregg Popovich for plenty, including signing off on those visits as the one-year anniversary of Frank’s passing comes next month.

“He challenged me beyond my imagination on and off the court to develop, to be a better individual,” DeRozan said of Popovich, who turns 73 on Friday. “But on the court, he just brought a lot of things out of me that I didn’t know was in there at that point in my career. And I’ve got to give so much credit to him for that because he took that stance the first day I came to San Antonio. And it did so much for me for me to be able to be the player I am now.”

This has been reunion week for DeRozan, who earned his fifth All-Star appearance Thursday night in his first season with the Chicago Bulls. He faced the Raptors on Wednesday and now the Spurs on Friday.

“It’s going to be fun,” DeRozan said. “I’m looking forward to it. I think it’s going to be not as emotional as my Toronto first return was. This one will be more exciting in the sense of I’m just happy to get back and see the fans, see Pop, see the players and kind of just go out there and compete.”

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