DeMar DeRozan, Spurs Embracing New Normals No One Ever Saw Coming
For the longest time, the San Antonio Spurs and DeMar DeRozan have been defined by their steadiness. Now, after a chaotic offseason, they are beginning to navigate their next chapters together.
The Spurs have made the postseason every year since drafting Tim Duncan in 1997, always with the same faces leading the way. DeRozan, meanwhile, has gotten better in each of his nine seasons in the NBA and become one of the defining figures of the previously small-time Toronto Raptors. All of that turned upside down this summer as the Spurs saw more high-level turnover than they ever have.
If Duncan's 2016 retirement was the beginning of the end of the Spurs' nearly unprecedented two-decade run, this offseason represented tearing off the Band-Aid. Tony Parker left for Charlotte following 17 years in silver and black. Manu Ginobili retired after his 16th season. The bizarre, drawn-out cold war between the Spurs and Leonard ended with the 2014 Finals MVP being dealt to Toronto in the trade that brought in DeRozan. The longest-tenured Spur is backup point guard Patty Mills, who joined the team all the way back in...2012.
Like the Spurs, DeRozan is adjusting to a new reality that wasn't of his choosing. He spent nine seasons with the Raptors, making four All-Star teams and two All-NBA teams and becoming the face of pro basketball in Canada during the most successful years in franchise history. He chose to forgo free-agent meetings in 2016 and quickly signed a five-year deal to stay in Toronto, fully believing he would join the likes of Duncan and Ginobili on the ever-shrinking list of stars who spent their whole careers with one team.
The Spurs organization and legendary coach Gregg Popovich, on the other hand, have a well-established way of doing things that existed 20 years before DeRozan's arrival and will be in place long after he's gone. It's a big adjustment in role and mindset, but DeRozan has embraced it.
"He's absorbed everything that we've given him so far," Popovich said Saturday. "We know full well that it's a new system and it'll take some time for him to get fully comfortable. But he's highly intelligent. It's the NBA, it's not rocket science. He's picking it up pretty quickly."
They have their work cut out for them to keep pace against stiff competition. Changes this drastic, both for DeRozan and the Spurs, will take time to fully grow into. But the early returns are positive.
"Me personally, I feel like I've got a lot of growth I still can make and will make," DeRozan said. "Understanding defensively and offensively. We're all a new group. We're all trying to figure it out and get better every single day. And we all understand that. We're going to be all right."