Even before news broke Wednesday morning that the Toronto Raptors had traded longtime linchpin guard DeMar DeRozan to the San Antonio Spurs for disgruntled superstar Kawhi Leonard, it was clear that DeRozan, who evidently wanted nothing more than to be a Raptor for life, wasn’t on board with the move. The four-time All-Star expressed his displeasure on social media before the trade was confirmed, claiming in posts on his Instagram story that he’d been “told one thing [while] the outcome [was] another,” and lamenting the inability to take people at their word when it came to rumored transactions: “Can’t trust ’em. Ain’t no loyalty in this game. Sell you out quick for a little bit of nothing.”
The implication in those Instagram posts: the Raptors, and specifically team president Masai Ujiri, had misled — if not outright lied to — DeRozan during a meeting at Las Vegas Summer League over whether or not he was going to be traded, whether for Leonard or as part of any other deal. Judging by the way Ujiri opened his Friday press conference on the trade, it sure seems like — at a minimum — something was lost in translation during their conversation in the desert.
“I want to apologize to DeMar DeRozan for a gap of miscommunication, but also to acknowledge him, and what he’s done here with the Raptors, for this city, for this country,” Ujiri said during Friday afternoon’s press conference, saying that he and the Raptors organization would “celebrate” DeRozan, whom he called the greatest player in franchise history, in “the best possible way.”
More from Ujiri, via Doug Smith of the Toronto Star:
More clarification on DeMar being surprised by the trade.
NBA Tv 📺 pic.twitter.com/0J54aA0JF8
— NBA TV (@NBATV) July 20, 2018
“I think maybe my mistake was talking about what we expected going forward from him,” Ujiri said Friday in his first public statement about the jarring trade of DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a draft pick for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green of the San Antonio Spurs.
“Not necessarily talking about a trade but what I expect from him going forward and I think that’s where the gap was, because in my job I always have to assume that I’m going forward with the team that I have.
“If there was a miscommunication there, I do apologize to DeMar and his family and his representation. It’s not what I meant. These things come and go, opportunities come and go and we have to react, in my position, and I had to react at this time, with this deal on the table.” […]
“When I met with Aaron (Goodwin, one of DeRozan’s agents) at summer league maybe my mistake was saying there was nothing imminent at the time,” Ujiri said. “I acknowledge that. If it was a mistake I apologize to them, but at the time we were fourth in the ranks of trying to get anything done (involving Leonard and the Spurs) and I didn’t see anywhere where the talks were going. That’s the message I delivered. It’s my job to always go to these guys and always talk about the team as it is.”
DeRozan, who is reportedly still “devastated” by the trade, has yet to speak publicly about how everything went down. He did, however, offer a one-emoji Instagram story update following Ujiri’s press conference that seems to offer some insight as to how he’s feeling about that apology:
Looks like DeMar DeRozan doesn't accept the apology.
📸: DeMar_DeRozan | Instagram pic.twitter.com/wrMNTwok4t
— Yahoo Sports NBA (@YahooSportsNBA) July 20, 2018
Whatever the prospects for the future of a relationship between DeRozan and Ujiri — and, I’ve got to say, they sure don’t seem great right now — the Raptors’ president said Friday that he felt compelled to leave personal feelings aside in pursuit of an upgrade to a roster that had won a franchise-record 59 games last season, but had once again fallen apart in the playoffs en route to another dispiriting sweep at the hands of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. From Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star:
“We’ve been doing this for how many years?” said Ujiri, as part of a 20-minute press conference. “You can’t keep doing the same thing over and over again, and when you get a chance to get a top-five player — which isn’t very often — I think you have to jump on it. I think we’ve given a chance to this team, we tried to build it up as much as we can, but at this point, we got to this level, this opportunity came in front of us and we had to jump on it.”
The big question now, for the Raptors, is whether they can convince Leonard to set aside his reported reluctance to play anywhere but Los Angeles and give Toronto a fair shake during a 2018-19 season in which the Raps will rank as one of the favorites to win the newly LeBron-less Eastern Conference. On that score, Ujiri said, he’s got no reason for pessimism at the moment. From ESPN:
“[Leonard] didn’t express a lack of interest to not play in Canada to me,” Ujiri said Friday. “A lot of these things are everybody has their own opinion about everything. … I haven’t gotten that sense from Kawhi Leonard or his people, and I’m going to give him that chance when we meet face to face.” […]
“I’ve had conversations with Kawhi, with his agent, with his uncle and everything has gone well,” Ujiri said. “I look forward to meeting with them face to face, and that’s our responsibility … to figure it out and to make them as comfortable as possible. … I’m confident. I think we have a good game plan, and we’ll see how that goes.”
It’ll be up to Ujiri and the rest of the Raptors’ staff to execute that plan, convincing Leonard to view them as more than a layover stop on the way to his preferred destination and building the sort of relationship with the 2014 NBA Finals MVP that might persuade him to stick around long term. As he embarks on that 12-month recruiting process, you’d figure it would behoove Ujiri to avoid any more “gaps” or “miscommunications” along the way.
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