I don’t think this trade was a home-run for the Raptors, but it certainly was a stand-up double. There’s no denying that the Raptors needed to make immediate changes because reoccurring episodes of inconsistent playoff basketball was reaching its peak. Being swept in the playoffs three out of the past four times has a lot to do with how dismal DeRozan’s performance has been. In fact, it has been so bad that his struggle is the norm which his fans are reluctant to admit.
Masai Ujiri signed DeRozan to a 5 year $139 million contract in 2016, which at that time was the second largest contract in the history of the NBA, surpassing the seven-year, $136.4 million deal Kobe got in 2014. It was a dreadful mistake by Ujiri because it’s hard to believe that any other team would’ve signed him to this ludicrous deal. But perhaps Ujiri believed more in the playoff curse that was haunting DeRozan than his inconsistent play, and therefore signed him thinking that he can become a more, well-rounded player. It has only been two years into his new contract and Ujiri finally confronts his failed hypothesis. He understands that it might be LeBron, or a curse, or a mental problem, that the Raptors can’t seem to get past. But more importantly, he also acknowledges that his players are simply not good enough, it’s for this reason why he made this trade. Now let me try and unpack this.
We can speculate whether Kawhi would help the Raptors make the finals, or whether he will resign. If we make the finals with Kawhi, that’s great – it’ll help build civic pride and a trajectory for championship level standards. If we don’t, well that means it’ll produce the same outcome if we had DeRozan because I’m not convinced we can beat Boston or Philly. If Kawhi doesn’t resign, that means we get rid of DeRozan’s big-ticket contract, which then gives us the cap space and money to start rebuilding. To start rebuilding is what most of the fans had desired after this failed season. What irritates me is when these same fans turn against this trade forgetting that they’re getting what they wanted (minus the first round pick, I suspect it’ll be a late round pick anyway) but with more hope and possibility. Not only is there hope and possibility with Kawhi playing without resting on the sideline or signing with the Raptors, but also to use him as a better trade asset than DeRozan.
I look forward to the Raptors this upcoming season. Demar DeRozan is a highly respectable person, a professional who really enjoyed playing for the Raptors. We’ll definitely miss his presence and contributions. I suspect the fans will also miss the friendship that Lowry and DeRozan had, it inspired us in so many ways. But sometimes an organization needs to not make an emotional decision, and instead make a sensible one. I think that’s what the Raptors did. Let’s see how it turns out!
By Vinu Selvaratnam