DeMar DeRozan has stepped up his game this season, and the basketball world has finally noticed.
Well, they’re starting to notice, according to Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri.
Ujiri sang the praises of his star shooting guard during a conversation on Prime Time Sports on Wednesday, but questioned why his team isn’t getting much time in the American market spotlight despite being one of the best teams in the league. It’s a common conversation in Canada and Ujiri chimed in with some strong words.
“It doesn’t bother me in person, it bothers me for our fans, for our organization, for our players,” he said.
“We don’t play as many of the so-called ESPN games, why is that? We’ve had one of the best records the last five years in the league so I don’t understand why the NBA does not give us, I think it’s a bunch of BS if you ask me, that they don’t give us more games.”
The Raptors have made the post-season four years in a row and look poised to make it five, though they’ve never made it to the Finals. They’re currently sitting in second place in the East, above the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“Honestly, if you haven’t won an NBA Championship you are not in the same category as Cleveland and Golden State,” said Ujiri. “But otherwise, I think we compete well with the other teams and they haven’t done anything to surpass us, we think. We feel strongly about that one, we are not scared of anybody. All the other teams that they are putting ahead of us, do I respect it? Yeah, it’s everybody else’s opinion but we are here to compete.”
This weekend’s pair of matchups against the Cavaliers and Warriors will surely get some national attention—especially if the Raptors can win.
“I could really care less about what all these people say and the whole ‘disrespect’ thing. I feel for our players, I feel for our organization. What do we need to do? We need to win a championship. That’s what we need to do and hopefully we can continue to build and grow and get to that level because all these other teams built and they grew and they got to that level too,” said Ujiri.
“I think it’s a bunch of BS that we don’t play on as many national so-called TV games as we should.”
Here are a few other excerpts from the conversation:
On the importance of upcoming games against Cleveland (Thursday) and Golden State (Saturday):
“They are important games. These are the best teams in the NBA and you want to compete, you want to win.
“There’s no other way, to me, to measure like these kinds of games. We are going against the best players in the world, we are going against the champions the last three years in the league. We know, with Cleveland, how it’s been with us.
“Yeah, you might say it’s another game, it’s the regular season, blah blah blah. But no, it’s Cleveland and it’s Golden State. Let’s be real, let’s call a spade a spade. Those two teams are two of the top teams in the country and you start to kind of learn many things as you go with your team in the season and start measuring. I don’t think this is the end measuring stick for us … but it’s good to play against the best competition in the league.”
On the growth of the Raptors this season—especially DeMar DeRozan:
“These guys continue to take the challenge, they continue to take the responsibility of continuing to grow. In terms of DeMar DeRozan, OK, ‘oh, he doesn’t shoot threes, he can’t pass, he can’t do this, he can’t do that’—well guess what? He’s doing it. He’s growing in his game and growing as a leader and growing as a person and it’s showing on the team…
“Sports Illustrated, they can rank him 100 or they can rank him one million. We could care less.”
On where DeRozan fits into the conversation among the league’s best:
“He’s our leading player, leading scorer, All-Star player. At this point in time, yeah I know there are the world-class players, I understand that—and believe me, winning the championship, to me, puts you in a different bracket to be honest. I think it’s fair to say that. I don’t want to name names, but we know the players we are talking about. They’ve won championships and we respect that, you have to respect that.
“But in terms of growing, I think we all definitely, me and you know that the DeMar DeRozan we are seeing today is not the DeMar DeRozan from last year. It’s not the DeMar DeRozan from two years ago and it hasn’t been. We’ve known him to elevate his game and continue to grow.”
(This year’s DeMar DeRozan is averaging 25.0 points, 4.9 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game, and he’s ushered in 2018 with some historic performances. His 52-point New Year’s Day outing against the Milwaukee Bucks set a new franchise record for single-game output, and he made history again a week later when he tied Vince Carter’s record for most 30-point games in franchise history: 91.)
“Where does it take us? That’s on him, that’s on us, that’s on the team, that’s on us as an organization. And that would bring the respect, I think. But I think people are beginning to recognize that DeMar DeRozan is stepping up his game to get to that level where he can sometimes be mentioned with these guys.”
On his personal approach to building a team:
“I want us to build our teams off of training camps—off of time with each other, off of knowing each other. And maybe, yes, there’s a move to make here or there to make us better. We’re always looking for those moves, but honestly I don’t believe that there is one player that you can bring—unless you are getting something that’s outright crazy and trust me, we are always looking for it—that’s going to come and totally change everything. Growth is what we preach. How are we getting better? Is OG [Anunoby] getting better? Is Pascal [Siakam] getting better? How are those guys going to be next year? What experiences are they gaining? How are they going to play, knock wood, we make the playoffs, and how are they going to play there? What are they going to gain, and how do Jakob Poeltl or Delon Wright or those guys, how do they continue to grow? Sometimes we are looking for something outside that’s actually inside with us.”