Vancouver Sun

DeRozan now thriving with Spurs

Former Raptors star says the only time he may get emotional is Feb. 23 in Toronto

- MIKE GANTER mganter@postmedia.com

The scars from the trade have mostly healed.

There is still a level of venom reserved for Masai Ujiri, the man who traded him: “I have no reason to talk to him. At all,” DeMar DeRozan said when asked if he had reached out to his former team president. But DeRozan has made peace with the fact that his desired goal to play with just one NBA team in his career is over.

From all outward appearance­s, he is happy playing for the San Antonio Spurs.

It’s a far cry from his initial reaction to the trade, voicing betrayal and hurt. It took time getting to San Antonio and experienci­ng his new home, meeting his new fans, and the new team that finally helped him put aside any hurt feelings.

“Once I got here and got a chance to feel the acceptance from the fans, from the organizati­on and just getting comfortabl­e with my teammates,” he said of that moment when basketball got back to normal again for him.

As for finding his role, well, that took all of a single practice.

“Pop (head coach Gregg Popovich) cussed me out for passing too much,” DeRozan said. “That’s when I realized, all right ...”

It’s been off to the races ever since.

DeRozan leads the Spurs in points, assists and steals. A bit more than three rebounds a game more and he’d be leading in that category, too.

With a pre-season injury to point guard Dejounte Murray, DeRozan is handling the ball more than ever. Popovich has given him the freedom to play the game he is most comfortabl­e playing and to the surprise of many, that has included a very healthy assist game. Popovich knew plenty about DeRozan’s scoring ability, but his ability to create for others surprised his new head coach. It surprised teammate Patty Mills as well.

“The passing for me was impressive,” Mills said. “It obviously opens up another opportunit­y for him as an offensive threat the more he gets others involved. I think that has been the biggest thing. Watching him get his teammates involved and making them better. It’s great for our team, it’s great for him and it’s great for other guards. You see the reactions from other guys on the court and on the bench and all of a sudden you are creating this chemistry with each and every one on the team and it’s just great to see.”

DeRozan doesn’t expect this game today to be especially emotional. For starters, he can’t recall any game being emotional for him, but he anticipate­s the Feb. 23 game at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena will likely get as close as any game has.

“Probably Toronto,” he said. “That’s why I probably don’t feel it as much, probably Toronto for sure, because that’s all I knew. You see so many familiar faces, from the staff, to everyone working at the tables to everything, so it’s definitely a different type of reception going back there.

“That’s something I can’t imagine how it’s going to be.”

For today, though, DeRozan is just trying to make it another game.

That could be difficult, but perhaps less so with Kyle Lowry not expected to play. The Lowry/ DeRozan relationsh­ip supersedes basketball, but it was clear DeRozan was at least looking forward to matching up against his good friend before it was announced Lowry was doubtful for today’s game.

“He ain’t want to play (from) the beginning,” DeRozan joked of Lowry’s potential no-show. “Nah. I wish he was healthy, able to be out there and play, compete against him. One of my all-time favourite point guards I ever played with, toughest competitor I ever played with, so I wish … he was able to be out there.”

Popovich, who is roundly accepted as the top bench boss in the NBA, downplayed any role he might have had in helping DeRozan go from jilted ex-Raptor to a happy member of the Spurs.

“He’s a very mature young man,” Popovich said. “There’s no doubt he was hurt, and a little bit angry. But anybody would be considerin­g all the circumstan­ces. He got over it the way each of us has to get over whatever might happen in our lives. Nobody walks through this life with no negative things happening to them. He understand­s that as well as anybody. We talked about it for sure. But he handled it pretty much on his own because he is so mature already. That was never a big issue at all.”

DeRozan is even able to look back on the situation and find positives he might not have seen those first few weeks after the trade.

“It just kind of opened my mind up to no matter who you are in this business, and in life as well, you have to be prepared for anything,” DeRozan said.

“It gave me not just this lesson on the court, but a life lesson as well.”

Even earlier threats to drop 50 on the Raptors are now forgotten. He made one when he was a guest on Serge Ibaka’s cooking show How Hungry are You? It was the show where Ibaka cooked up a nice dish of worms and rice for his recently former teammate this past summer.

“I forgot what it was,” DeRozan said of the threat. “I think them worms had me all tripped out.”

The guess here is he’ll remember come game time today.

It just kind of opened my mind up to no matter who you are in this business, and in life as well, you have to be prepared for anything.

 ?? THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/FILES ?? Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan, who is thriving in his first season working with coach Gregg Popovich, will face his old Raptors teammates today in San Antonio, Texas.
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/FILES Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan, who is thriving in his first season working with coach Gregg Popovich, will face his old Raptors teammates today in San Antonio, Texas.
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