Raptors’ Lowry has been speaking with DeRozan throughout playoffs

Masai Ujiri on the journey the Toronto Raptors have taken to get to this finals appearance, including the trade of DeMar DeRozan, and players buying into the system with the coaches.

DeMar DeRozan hasn’t been a member of the Toronto Raptors since 2018 but he remains unequivocally linked to the team’s journey to the 2019 NBA Finals.

So it isn’t entirely surprising that Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry has been in contact with his close friend throughout this entire playoff run.

“I’ve been speaking to him the whole way,” Lowry told Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated. “One thing about him is that he legit cares about me as his best friend. He has texted everyone he has a relationship with and let them know how happy he is for us.”

DeRozan was the main piece Toronto sent to the San Antonio Spurs last summer in the trade that landed the Raptors Kawhi Leonard.

While the team and its fan base were excited at the thought of landing a two-time Defensive Player of the Year and Finals MVP like Leonard, it was a bittersweet departure for the player who has scored more points and played more games than anyone in Raptors history.

Lowry was sad to see his friend go but made a concerted effort not to let DeRozan’s absence affect his own on-court performance.

“It was strictly business. All business. That’s where my emotions were [at the start of the season],” Lowry said. “I didn’t care about the business other than strictly being a basketball player. I didn’t care about being friends with anybody. I didn’t care about this or that. I just legit cared about coming in here and being the best player I could be because everyone was saying, ‘He is not going to do this. He is not going to do that.’ My job was to prove them wrong.”

He also told Spears that “people didn’t think I could be the same player that I was” without DeRozan, yet Lowry had a strong 2018-19 campaign. In fact, he averaged a career-high 8.7 assists per game and was selected to a fifth consecutive all-star game.

Lowry and DeRozan spent six seasons together as Raptors teammates. The team’s regular-season record during that stretch was 297-195 but the they could never get beyond the Eastern Conference Final despite four division titles.

The Raptors were swept by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round of the playoffs last year after a franchise-record 59-win season. That disappointment resulted in Coach of the Year Dwane Casey getting fired and DeRozan getting traded.

“I want to say that [former head coach] Dwane Casey and DeMar DeRozan are part of this,” Ujiri told reporters in Toronto Wednesday at the NBA Finals Media Day. “They are part of our journey and how far this has come.”

The Raptors are the first team in the draft era to make the finals without a lottery pick. They host the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 of the NBA Finals Thursday night at Scotiabank Arena.

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