It's been over a year since the Toronto Raptors won their first-ever NBA title in 2019, but it's still fresh on the memory of former All-Star DeMar DeRozan.
On J.J. Redick's The Old Man and the Three podcast, before Redick and DeRozan got to discussing last year's championship run, they talked about the difficulties of playing against a LeBron James-led team in the playoffs as we watch the all-time great make a push toward his fourth NBA championship.
"People don't realize how tough it is to get past this (expletive). To see him come to the West and be able to do the same thing, it's a testament to his greatness," DeRozan said of James.
"In 2016 when we went to the Eastern Conference Finals when we won Games 3 and 4, it's like a whole nother mindset clicked for him where it was like 'it's close-out time.' ... When it comes to winning time, you see (how locked in) he is on both ends. That's a testament to who he is, why he's been to 10 Finals and why he's on the verge of getting his fourth ring," DeRozan continued.
The conversation ensued with DeRozan's feelings toward the Raptors title run last season, not having to go through a familiar foe in LeBron.
"It definitely was tough, man. It was tough," he reiterated.
"I was there nine years, went through everything and accomplished so many things that people said we would never be able to do. ... My whole time (in Toronto) trying to build a winning program, for me to turn into an All-Star starter, see the All-Star Game come to Toronto for the first time, make the playoffs. ... For everything to trend in the right direction and for the one person we only lost to (LeBron James) to leave (the Eastern Conference) than us not be able to have a chance to see what that could've turned into... for me personally, for me to leave and then see those guys get to where they went, it definitely was tough. I wouldn't lie."
"It was tough to see it. Especially because (the Spurs) lost in the playoffs, and now I sit back and see them winning. You kind of feel like 'damn, was I the problem?' But then I'd be like 'I wasn't the problem,' because we were doing the same thing, we just couldn't get past one person."
DeRozan is, of course, referencing that he was traded to San Antonio for Kawhi Leonard shortly after James had signed with the Lakers, going to the Western Conference for the first time in his career. That opened up the pathway for the Raptors to make a push to their first-ever NBA Finals.
He expanded on the type of feeling he had watching his former team make that run to the championship.
"You're dealing with those type of emotions every time you turn on the TV. The s-- that was so crazy to me was that every time they did something, if I went on social media, my name would always be in the narratives, too. That's what made it worse. Like, just leave me alone," he said in a joking manner at the end.
" But I had such a close bond with all those guys. Everyone knows about me and Kyle (Lowry)'s relationship, but we motored those young guys," DeRozan continued.
"I've never seen young dudes work as hard as they worked when it comes to Freddy VanVleet, Norm (Powell), Pascal (Siakam). All these guys... I used to go to their G League games and they'd still show up with us the next morning for shootaround. They were so locked in, so to see those guys go out there and perform the way they did... I was constantly talking to them... through the whole process, I was talking to them. As soon as they won, I sent everybody a long text to congratulate them. I was happy for them."
His lasting message on the topic was genuine and understandable.
"I know how rough it was playing there. Nobody ever gave us nothing. We had to fight and earn everything we wanted and that was the part that hurt the most for me. I wanted to finally feel that positive side of everything after going through everything all those years to get to that point."
Although he wasn't on the championship team, his work, attitude and effort was without a doubt intertwined with the players on that roster. DeRozan will always be a Raptors legend, earning four All-Star appearances and two All-NBA nods in his nine seasons in Toronto.
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