The Toronto Raptors have been busy. After bringing Tim Leiweke and Masai Ujiri into the fold, they’re only getting started.
Back in Los Angeles, DeMar DeRozan has had an eventful offseason of his own, complete with his own new addition. Arriving on Mother’s Day, DeRozan and his fiancee welcomed their first child, a daughter. A month later, he was invited to Team USA’s minicamp.
In between working out and enjoying fatherhood, he has been talking with his coach, Dwane Casey, and new general manager, Ujiri.
“I talk to Casey,” DeRozan said. “We always talk about the playoff games, the Finals. We text during the games, small talk. I talk to him about what we can be better at as a team, as well as me personally. I talk to him often. I had a chance to talk to Masai, had a good conversation with him.”
Thursday afternoon, Casey told reporters the team would be going back to its defensive identity this season.
“When Indiana and Miami were playing, I was talking to Casey,” DeRozan said. “We were talking about defence. That’s how we’ve got to take each game, each quarter, each possession. It’s going to be tough, grind, hard-fought defence. That’s how we’re going to have to play.”
DeRozan has been getting in time with his Toronto teammates as well. Spending time with Rudy Gay and Alan Anderson, he said he has been exchanging texts as well as recent phone calls with Kyle Lowry and John Lucas and checking on the rookies.
As for former Raptors teammate Ed Davis? The two are close as ever.
“I talk to Ed every day,” DeRozan said. “Ed is the godfather of my daughter. He’s always texting, calling, wanting pictures.”
Getting the invite to Team USA minicamp was a boost for DeRozan after another tough season with the Raptors.
“It’s an honour just to be a part of something like that,” he said. “Being recognized for your skill and your hard work. I couldn’t be happier…Especially top players of their teams, just going out there and competing with them. Continue to get better, continue to help me with my game, my experience. Better myself.”
While DeRozan has always been motivated to work, he says the birth of his daughter only strengthened his need to succeed.
“It definitely changed me,” he said of fatherhood. “It made me put life into more perspective. My daughter has helped me because it’s extra motivation (for) me. She’s made me want to be better in every type of way as a person. As a player (too).
DeRozan said he feels as though he has never been in better shape at this point of an offseason.
“My days are just work out, spend time with my daughter, work out and spend time with my daughter,” he said.
If there is a silver lining in not making the postseason this year it was getting to be fully present for his daughter’s arrival. “I wanted to be there for everything, no rushing. To go through everything, especially all of the beginning [parenting] stuff, just being with her. I didn’t have to rush, it wasn’t in the middle of the season or anything like that.”
Basketball-wise, his focus has been on his three-point shooting.
“On the court just getting my range to where I get more comfortable, where it feels like a 15-footer,” DeRozan said. “Extending my range even if it means shooting damn near 30 feet, just getting comfortable shooting farther away, feeling like I shot a 15-footer. Being able to have that same exact feeling I have when I’m shooting that mid-range. Getting a lot stronger so I’m able to shoot the shots the same way from the three-point range.”
While he stressed that he tries to keep his mind off of the business side of the game, DeRozan agreed that in some ways people may look at this season as a fresh start. For a player going into his fifth season without having experienced the energy of the playing past April, he welcomes whatever will make the team better.
“I’m going into my fifth year, you know? I’m tired of being home watching the playoffs,” he said. “Tired of seeing these teams we might have beaten in the playoffs.”
The Raptors have yet to reveal their blueprint for the future, but DeRozan is all in on whatever is required for the team to make it to the postseason sooner than later.
“Man, I’m just at a point to where I’m willing to do any and everything to make sure I’ll be there next season.
On lessons learned after four years in the league:
"As you play in the league more, you understand how your body is going to work, how much you need to eat, how you need to take care of your body and how to keep your strength up. I think I’ve been doing well each season with that. Keeping my strength, keeping my weight up, eating more, making sure I have the right energy day in and day out. You play so much you can lose weight and not know it. I try not to have that be a problem especially going toward the end of the season."
On what he does differently now:
"Before I’d work out just to work out, now it’s more understanding you can’t go super hard early in the summer, you’ve got to go step-by-step, each month, increasing what you do, doing this and doing that, getting closer and getting ready for training camp. Understanding that and keeping yourself in the best shape."
On the run Danny Green had in the Finals (this interview was done prior to Game 7):
"I’m happy for Danny. I know Danny and I’m happy for him. That could be the best story ever. Being out the league, being cut from a team twice to coming back to break a Finals record. Like, for real, that’s amazing."
On players he enjoys watching:
"I’m always excited to watch the guys I grew up with play. From James Harden to Paul George, Brandon [Jennings], all the guys from L.A. I always root for them when they’re in it."
On the success Paul George has had in his third NBA season:
"That’s Paul. I played Paul in high school when I was a senior and he was a junior or a sophomore and I remember just this tall, lanky kid who was able to do everything. Shoot threes and everything. I remember the day he got drafted and then the first time we played him. Ever since I played him in high school I’ve been a fan of Paul George."
On the Spurs, consistency and the greatness of Tim Duncan:
"I remember watching when they used to play in the old arena. The big, old arena. It was always a tough game. I used to hate Bruce Bowen because I used to think he was dirty back then. It’s crazy now to see Tim still playing. Playing at the level he’s playing at, too. It’s definitely fun."
On watching a veteran like Duncan still competing at such high level:
"It’s an amazing thing. Just playing and playing at the level they’re playing at is amazing. The more years I play in here you see guys start to retire, like Jason Kidd. I remember coming into the league and playing against him. It was an amazing thing to know that was Jason Kidd and now he’s retired going into coaching. It shows you how much basketball, the NBA is a cycle. Before I know it I’ll be 10 years in and somebody will be saying something about me. It’s crazy how it works."
On training now versus his rookie season:
"Stretch, stretch. Do all of that more. Every time I work out, make sure I get stretched out. All of the little stuff. I swore I was never going to ice when I was a rookie, now I can’t go without stretching and icing."