While Kevin Durant is off planning meetings with seemingly every NBA team south of the border, DeMar DeRozan is opting to keep his long weekend open.
DeRozan is so focused on working out a new contract with the Toronto Raptors that he does not plan on scheduling meetings with any other teams, at least at the start of free agency, according to a report from Tim MacMahon of ESPN. McMahon sites a source who says DeRozan’s focus is on re-upping with the only franchise he’s ever known, which lines up with what DeRozan has long said in public.
There was some baseless worry when DeRozan officially opted out of his deal in mid-June, but DeRozan was quick to stunt on haters on Instagram, pointing out that a commenter was basically correct in saying DeRozan opting out was a formality and doesn’t mean anything about his long-term intentions. DeRozan has said he’d like to stay with the Raptors on multiple occasions (see here, here, here, here, and here for more), he’s just earned a substantial raise on the $10.35-million option he held for next year.
And yes, players often pay lip service to staying without really meaning it – things change quickly, money talks, and it’s “free” agency, where players don’t owe any team anything – DeRozan has always seemed quite earnest in repeatedly saying Toronto is where he wants to be.
“I think that one thing that’s always greatly said about me is I’m a loyal person. That’s how I live my life. At this point in my career, it’s all about winning. It’s the only thing that matters,” DeRozan said at locker clean-out day. When asked about staying with one team his entire career, he offered, “I think that’s the most incredible thing you can do, me personally. That’s awesome.”
Any concern he may leave is understandable given market realities and the lure of returning to Los Angeles, but as head coach Dwane Casey has pointed out, “if DeMar said it, he meant it.” There have occasionally been rumors that the Lakers or Nets have eyes on DeRozan or that he intends to go back “home,” but they often seemed unfounded, and DeRozan was adamant those reports weren’t coming from his camp, especially during the playoffs. While going home may be a logical story, DeRozan’s also spent his entire professional and adult life in Toronto, so this probably feels pretty home-like, too, now.
There’s also the matter of the Raptors being able to set DeRozan up better than most any other team, in more than just financial terms. Based on the latest estimates for where the 2016-17 salary cap will be set, DeRozan could earn roughly $26.6 million in the first year of a new contract. Because the Raptors can offer a fifth season and larger annual raises than any other team, his contract could go as high as $152.9 million over five seasons (compared to $113.6 million over four years with another team).
The Raptors also employ DeRozan’s best friend in Kyle Lowry, and while Lowry’s been clear he’ll act only as a friend during the process, it’s difficult to see them wanting to separate if the opportunity to win remains in place. And it does – the Raptors may not be considered a legitimate title contender quite yet, but of the teams DeRozan could jump too, few can offer the combination of a co-star the quality of Lowry, a supporting cast as deep, a culture as strong, or a 56-win run to the conference finals. The Cavaliers, Warriors, Thunder, and Spurs probably aren’t coming knocking, he’d be redundant on the Heat, and any other suitor would require a heck of an offseason and a strong fit for DeRozan to find a better basketball situation.
As a side note, Sam Amick of USA TODAY Sports lists the Lakers, Clippers, Warriors, Heat, Knicks, and Magic as teams with interest in DeRozan. (Amick also says Bismack Biyombo is willing to be patient as the Raptors figure out DeRozan’s situation, but the broad strokes that are painted without acknowledging the realities of the Raptors’ cap situation are borderline irresponsible. Because of salary cap rules, rights, and sequencing, DeRozan’s deal has almost no impact on Biyombo’s, something I’ll expand on in a separate piece because it’s too much to get into here.)
And again, Toronto can offer way more money, and I’m not sure Nike’s going to come correct enough with a P.E. if he goes to L.A. to make up for that difference. (As a reminder, there’s little value to a sign-and-trade in the new cap economy – players can’t receive a fifth year in a sign-and-trade, nor can they get as large a raise, and with so many teams possessing cap space, there aren’t many scenarios where it would make sense for cap circumventing, either.)
From there, it’s a matter of the Raptors deciding if they want to retain the biggest star who’s ever wanted to stay. A two-time All-Star, the team’s No. 9 overall pick in 2009 ranks second in franchise scoring and third in games played, records he’d hold with one more season in Toronto, and he’s also, of course, been a key part of the best single postseason and the best three-season stretch in team history. It’s not quite a black-and-white decision given how much DeRozan could command, particularly if he’s set on earning the full max (and not, say, taking a slight annual discount on a deal that still pays him more over it’s life than another team could offer), but the franchise has long believed something will get done.
“Our number one goal is to bring DeMar back here. We feel great that he wants to come back to our organization,” general manager Masai Uiiri said at his season-ending media availability, though he declined to talk financial specifics.
DeRozan will officially become a free agent at 12:01 on July 1. All indications are that he’ll have a new deal to stay in Toronto shortly thereafter.
(I should note that they may come to an agreement and not officially sign him until later. DeRozan’s cap hold is much smaller than his salary will be, so the Raptors could leave themselves some additional flexibility by waiting to re-sign him until after they’ve made some other moves. There are also offseason scenarios where that won’t matter at all, but they’re likely to leave themselves wiggle room and not “officially” announce a deal until later this summer.)Follow @raptorsrepublic