Morning Tip Q&A: DeMar DeRozan

Morning Tip Q&A: DeMar DeRozan
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 18: DeMar DeRozan #10 of the Toronto Raptors of Team Stephen goes to the basket against Team LeBron during the NBA All-Star Game as a part of 2018 NBA All-Star Weekend at STAPLES Center on February 18, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

By David Aldridge, TNT Analyst

The tweet was posted at 6:06 a.m. on Feb. 17 (7:06pm, PHL time), and while there have occasionally been positive tweets sent out at that hour, this one got people’s attention for the wrong reasons.

That it came from the Twitter account of a four-time NBA All-Star, whose team was en route to the best season in franchise history, only added to the confusion. But there it was. “This depression get the best of me...” DeMar DeRozan tweeted, and it surprised just about everyone, because the 28-year-old is pretty quiet most of the time.

But DeRozan has been carrying a lot on his plate. Not only is trying to lead Toronto somewhere it’s never been before, but has never has as a good a chance before, either -- The Finals -- but he’s been doing it while going back and forth between Toronto and Los Angeles, where his father, Frank DeRozan, has been hospitalized for weeks. Frank DeRozan has been DeMar’s biggest coach, biggest critic and biggest champion his whole life, never being satisfied as his son rose through the ranks of basketball, from Compton High to USC to the NBA.

But Frank DeRozan has suffered health setbacks in recent years -- a stroke and significant kidney problems, per the Toronto Sun -- and DeMar has gone bicoastal multiple times to be with his dad, never missing a game in the process. (Frank DeRozan was able, though, to temporarily leave the hospital last month in L.A. to go to Staples Center to see DeMar play for Team Stephen in the All-Star Game.)

In his ninth season in Toronto -- he’s never asked for a trade and agreed almost immediately to a $139 million extension with the Raptors in 2016, never even looking at free agency -- DeRozan has scored less than he did last season, but is averaging a career-high 5.2 assists and gone all in on Toronto’s “culture reset,” as GM Masai Ujiri put it after the Raptors went out again in the playoffs last year. After years of resisting, arguing not without merit that he was a master of the mid-range game, DeRozan has embraced the three-pointer this season, obliterating his previous highs for attempts and makes behind the arc, and keeping the ball moving both to fellow All-Star Kyle Lowry and to the team’s emerging cast of young, talented players, who’ve helped carry the load all season.

After winning Sunday (Monday, PHL time), the Raptors are an Eastern Conference best 45-17, and are closing in on home court throughout the playoffs in the East. All would seem to be great. But, as DeRozan’s social media statement made clear (and, to his credit, he acknowledged it was him and that he wasn’t hacked, and he hasn’t taken the Tweet down), life sometimes gets in the way of all our dreams.

David Aldridge: So, your dad was able to come to Staples Center to see you at the All-Star Game. How was that for him?

DeMar DeRozan: It was good. It was real good. He had a good time. It was cool for him to be able to come out and experience it and enjoy it. It made me feel good. He was happy about it.

DA: And how is he doing?

DD: Every day is one of them things where you just don’t know until he’s home. Until he gets home, that’s when I think I’ll be more comfortable, knowing, cool, you’re out of there. He’s been in there since Dec. 23. It’s March 2nd. I know just that is bothering him, being in there and wanting to get out. Just on top of that, my mom, when I was home the other day, my mom was telling me ‘this is the longest I’ve been without my husband in 30-plus years.’ Stuff like that, that’s the rough part of it.

DA: So is that where your head’s at right now?

DD: Without a doubt. For sure. One thing I always try to do whenever I go out there and play is try to do whatever I can, knowing I’m so far, doing something I know will make them proud, make them feel good, give them a kind of energy. That’s kind of where I’ll be with it.

DA: Is it hard to compartmentalize? So many people say the court is their refuge?

DD: For me, it’s easy to do, from the moment of playing to kind of lock in and focus and kind of indulge in that moment. It’s crazy you say that, because Kyle, he’s one of my closest friends, he knows me so well. A lot of times after the game, the first thing he’ll say to me is ‘back to reality.’ He knows now our night is over. Now I have to go back and get into the reality of DeMar. It’s crazy.

DA: What have you heard from folks since you sent that tweet out?

DD: Man, where haven’t I heard from? Honestly, the response, I can honestly say that I wouldn’t have even thought how the response, how it came out, I wouldn’t have thought I’d ever gotten anything like that. Especially me. I’ve never been one who wanted any type of attention, good nor bad. The response I got from people was so uplifting, positive, refreshing. It’s crazy. It’s crazy. But it made me feel good. You just look at certain things. People say ‘you helped me. Because if you’re going through something like this, I can get through it.’ It’s incredible. By far one of the most incredible things in my career that I’ve witnessed outside of basketball.

DA: So you could be a role model in a whole different way.

DD: For sure. I never looked at myself and said ‘man, I want to be a role model.’ But something like that is extremely important. It’s all walks of life. I done had high school players, college players, older people. I had one older coach that I’ve known text me and tell me, ‘if there was a player when I was young that I’d seen or witnessed who was going through something (like this), it would have helped me -- then -- not be an alcoholic.’ It was incredible to hear words like that. It’s been one of them things where I’m like, ‘damn, I’m just speaking the truth.’ It’s crazy.

DA: Is there anything you’re doing formally or officially now to deal with it?

DD: Nah. I think I’m going to definitely, once we’re all said and done, probably the summertime for sure, I’ll be open arms about it without a doubt. At the end of the day, it’s like it’s one of them things where you can’t play basketball forever, but if there’s something I can do that will outlast it and be helpful, be bigger than basketball, I’m all for it. It’s life.

DA: So y’all are in this new position on top of the East. You’ve been good for a minute over the years, but this is the top of the top. Is the vibe different in the locker room?

DD: Definitely. It’s more, we have fun with one another, but we understand it’s bigger than us all. We, all of us -- young guys, all of me. Me and Kyle always tell the young guys, ‘this opportunity doesn’t always come around that often. Take advantage of this and be all for it. Before you know it, you’re going to be 10 years in, and the opportunity may not come again. Take full advantage of it.’ And everybody understands that. We see it now, especially when we have games where we lose a game. We think we’re on a 10-game losing streak. That’s how we approach coming in the next day at practice, or the next game. It’s great to have that kind of feeling and vibe.

DA: How do you know when you’re all locked in?

DD: You just know. I always look at my guy Kyle, and you know he’s gonna ride or die with you. But it’s crazy when you’re able to look over at a guy like Pascal (Siakam), or Freddie (Van Vleet), or Delon (Wright), these young guys who only have a couple of years in the league, they’ve got the same look that Kyle’s got. That says a lot about the team. Because you know when those young guys go in, they’re some dogs, too. That’s the beauty of it, and it shows.

DA: So, about those young guys. You know what you’re gonna do in the playoffs, and you know what Kyle’s gonna do, and Jo. But if you’re going to beat an elite team in the playoffs, the young guys are gonna have to perform.

DD: Yeah. And they have. I lost count of how many games our starters haven’t even played in the fourth quarter. Against good teams, not just lower teams. There have been times where we’re playing some great teams, and the coaches come in and look at us, and we’re like, ‘nah, let them finish out the game. They’ve got this.’ It’s great to have that type of confidence in the young guys. It’s amazing. I know we get a lot of credit, but they deserve just as much credit.

DA: So is this the most optimistic you’ve been going into the postseason?

DD: Yeah. Because we’ve done felt the fails. We’ve been at the top, and we fell all the way to the bottom. We know what that feels like. We know what it feels like getting closer and closer. We understand the moments. That’s the beauty of failing sometimes. Nobody wants to fail, but you have to to understand what it takes to succeed. And I think that’s where we’re at mentally, and we understand what we have to do.

Longtime NBA reporter, columnist and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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