With Kawhi Leonard leading the Toronto Raptors to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history, much has been speculated about DeMar DeRozan's thoughts regarding his former team's run.
DeRozan, who was the key piece in the trade that landed Leonard, shared that he was happy for the Raptors success earlier in the postseason. On the season finale of "Take It There with Taylor Rooks" that was recorded a few weeks before the Finals, the Spurs guard doubled down on his support when asked what he was thinking as he watches his former team play:
"People have got to understand that my best friend is Kyle [Lowry]. I'm rooting for my best friend to do well and accomplish something that we tried to do all [those] years, and he has the opportunity to do it."
DeRozan continued, adding that "all those guys on that team, they know that I'm rooting for them."
Rooks asked DeRozan about the narrative surrounding the Raptors shortcomings during his time with the team in comparison to the seemingly-instant success with Leonard, a point to which he was able to contest with his contributions that made the trade, and this run possible:
"Honestly, I don't even think I've said this - I probably said this to my own inner circle, but if it wasn't for all of the years and groundwork that I did before then, none of [those] things would have been possible."
In nine years spent with the Raptors, DeRozan led the team to five playoff appearances, earned four All-Star selections and two All-NBA selections. Prior to DeRozan's arrival in Toronto, the franchise had won just one postseason series, during his time with the team, they won four series, advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2016.
MORE: DeRozan's Raptors legacy
While Toronto was never able to get over the hump during DeRozan's years with the franchise, he helped them reach new heights that paved the way for all that has happened this season:
"Yes, I fought, I sacrificed, I pushed the limits to where I had to be the sacrificial lamb. You just have to sit back and understand that you are the reason that so many things [were] even possible."
The somewhat unexpected trade shocked many within the NBA world but in retrospect, it's a move that DeRozan has come to grasp an understanding of: "To their credit, they probably thought it was time to see what we could get to make that next jump."
With his time in Toronto coming to such an abrupt end, Rooks asked DeRozan if the trade brought about more feelings of anger or hurt: "More hurt, because being invested from 19 to 28, everything you learned was from there, everything you gained was from there."
"So, for that to be gone like that - when you least expect it - it just throws you off guard, you know, we're human at the end of the day and it definitely hits you."
In his first season with San Antonio, DeRozan averaged 21.2 points in addition to career-high averages in assists (6.2) and rebounds (6.0) over 77 regular season games. He helped the seventh-seeded Spurs push the No. 2 Nuggets to the brink of elimination in the first round of the playoffs with averages of 22.0 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game.
As for his best friend Kyle Lowry, he and the Raptors will look to regain control of the NBA Finals when they take on the Golden State Warriors in Game 3 of the NBA Finals on Wednesday, June 5 at 9 p.m. ET (SN1/ABC).
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