There is no basketball right now, for starters, and it’s not clear when there will be once more as the world continues to grapple with the COVID-19 crisis. DeRozan’s longtime friend and idol, Kobe Bryant, tragically passed away in a helicopter crash. The Raptors won an NBA championship and hosted a parade that filled Toronto’s streets.
What hasn’t changed, though, is DeRozan’s love and appreciation for his former teammates, for what they accomplished in his absence — and for what they have the potential to achieve over the rest of their careers.
“You got the full blueprint, bro, to even pass [Kyle Lowry as the greatest player in Raptors history],” DeRozan told Pascal Siakam in a wide-ranging, candid Instagram Live conversation Sunday night. “You got the blueprint, you done seen it all.”
Siakam took the compliment but remained humble, thanking DeRozan for helping pave the way during his time north of the border.
“First of all, y’all put everything out [for us], everything y’all did for Toronto, and then [Lowry] winning a championship,” Siakam added. “We know what to do now. I saw y’all doing it.”
DeRozan wasn’t there to see Toronto’s run to the Finals first-hand, of course, and he hasn’t been there in person day in and day out to watch Siakam’s ascent this year.
But he was there for the beginning of Siakam’s career, and knows the blueprint for greatness encompasses more than one playoff run. It’s bigger than one person, and stretches back to Siakam’s earliest days as a member of the Raptors — when he would split time between the NBA and G League — waiting and working toward the opportunity to make his mark.
“[Jared Sullinger] was hurt and you started and we hooped,” DeRozan recalled. “I’ll be telling everybody, …[because] people forget, ‘Pascal played with us, then [he] would go play in the G League, hoop, then come back and play with us …so you was always consistently hooping.
“Then, to see how much we was hooping [at the NBA level], how serious we took it …that’s the ultimate cheat code you had. You had the ultimate cheat code, to see everything. It’s crazy, bro.
…That’d be my favourite story to tell anybody. If you want to look at anybody, my favourite players that I played with that’s seen growth, it’s definitely you, Freddie [VanVleet], Norm [Powell].”
The cheat code of having veterans to show you the way early on in your NBA career is something DeRozan learned best by its absence.
As a rookie, he had Chris Bosh to help guide him and shape the player he’d become. But the following year, Bosh took his talents to South Beach and teamed up with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
“I wish I would have played with Chris longer, I only played with Chris my rookie year,” DeRozan said. “I remember when he left, I was like ‘Damn man, he was an all-star, he was the best player here, I just wanted to learn from him.'”
If there was a silver lining to be found in missing out on picking the eventual 11-time all-star’s brain, and in the struggles of being on subsequent Raptors teams whose rosters were constantly in flux, DeRozan found it in the way he chose to support the next generation of players in Toronto’s system — even after his departure, adding another layer to the blueprint Siakam could follow as he builds his legacy.
“That’s why I took it so seriously,” DeRozan said. “Even supporting y’all like when y’all went down to the G League. That’s what it is, bro, I’m telling you that camaraderie [explevtive] that we had was something else. That was the major part of our success.”
“I always tell people,” Siakam immediately interjected, “the year I had the most fun with basketball, it was the year we had the Bench Mob. Literally, that was the most fun playing basketball. …The whole team was just together.”
“And it carried on from there, brother,” DeRozan added.
Catching Lowry — or Kawhi Leonard, depending on how much weight one ascribes to a particular four-bounce buzzer-beater — on the list of greatest Raptors ever is no small feat.
In the eyes of at least one Raptors legend, though, with a blueprint of hard work, having seen what it takes to win it all, and buoyed by the unending support of teammates past and present, Siakam has a shot.