Person of Interest: Why newest Raptor Sam Dekker comes with controversy

Sam Dekker during his time with the Clippers. (Jae C. Hong/AP)

The Toronto Raptors are reportedly signing forward Sam Dekker to a contract.

Dekker played his last two seasons in Europe but was a decorated college player during his three years at Wisconsin between 2012 and 2015 that saw him earn a Big Ten All-Freshman team selection in 2013 and twice be named to the All Big-Ten second team in 2014 and 2015.

These accolades saw him go in the first round, 18th overall, in the 2015 NBA Draft, taken by the Houston Rockets.

He spent two seasons with the Rockets before he was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers in 2017 as part of the deal that saw Chris Paul land in Houston.

Dekker would go on to be traded twice more in 2018, first to the Cleveland Cavaliers and then to the Washington Wizards.

Washington was the last NBA team Dekker played for before departing for Europe in 2019 where he played for Russian club Lokomotiv Kuban in the 2019-20 season and Türk Telekom in Turkey this past season.

A strong shooter with height and some size, Dekker has some NBA skills that could help the Raptors, but he comes to the team with some risk morally.

Here’s a little more on the reportedly newest member of the team.

Age: 27
Former team: Türk Telekom (Turkey)
Position: Small forward
Height: Six-foot-eight | Weight: 219 lbs
2020-21 stats (all competitions): PPG: 15.4 | RPG: 5.6 | FG%: 54.1 | 3P%: 45.2

Comes with controversy

You may have seen some negative reaction to the Dekker signing on Twitter from fans and if you’re confused about why, know that it has nothing to do with his basketball abilities.

No, the reason why Dekker is likely to draw a lot of ire is because before his departure from the NBA, he got himself into some hot water with some controversial statements about “white pride” and possibly being a supporter of Donald Trump.

Back in 2018, Dekker tweeted in response to his former Wisconsin teammate Bronson Koenig sharing an article titled “White People Have No Culture,” taking issue with the idea.

“Don’t put it in my face that being a white guy is something I’m supposed to be ashamed of,” Dekker said in his since-deleted tweet to Koenig. “I’m proud of who I am and so should you. But youre [sic] Native American and also white BK. This article speaks very many untruths about most of our ‘culture’ that we supposedly don’t have…”

Dekker faced a lot of backlash for that reply, forcing him to delete the tweet, and it wouldn’t be the only time he came under fire, either.

In October, 2020, a clip of a J.R. Smith appearance on the “All Things Covered” podcast went viral with Smith saying Dekker, his former Cavaliers teammate, was the only teammate he never got along with, because one day Dekker was “talking some Trump [expletive].”

In the aftermath of that podcast episode, Olivia Harlan, a sportscaster and Dekker’s wife, defended her husband, saying Dekker isn’t a racist or a Trump supporter.

Regardless of how you view Dekker, from a Raptors perspective, taking him on is sure to bring some extra baggage and some uncomfortable lines of questioning heading his way that the team probably doesn’t want to deal with.

The Raptors are an organization that recently have prided themselves on being more socially conscious and aware, and even if the homework they did on Dekker came out with his character looking clean as a whistle, it’s a little confusing as to why the Raptors would want to bring in a player with this kind of controversy that’s followed him, threatening their pristine woke image.

Could fill a need the Raptors have

Looking at Dekker purely from a basketball standpoint now, however, you can begin to understand the interest the Raptors had in him.

Dekker was a deadly shooter for Türk Telekom last season, making 45.2 per cent of the 126 attempts he took across the 28 games he played in all competition formats.

During the four seasons he played in the NBA before, he was never really able to show his marksmanship from deep as he shot just 28.8 per cent from three-point range, but in the 200 NBA games he’s played he was only afforded the chance to take 309 triples.

Given the fact he’s older and should be a more mature player who better understands his role and how to play it, there should be hope that he improves as a shooter in the NBA to perhaps be more in line with what he did at Türk Telekom.

That would be a boon for the Raptors, as this is a team that’s in need of some knockdown shooters to help finish off penetration from the likes of Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet.

As well, because of his size, Dekker would be easier to keep on the floor as his height and length inherently make him a stronger defender than someone like a Matt Thomas, who was an excellent shooter for the Raptors but couldn’t see floor time because of his defensive limitations.

Dekker fills a very real basketball need the Raptors have, and could end up doing a good job at it, too.

Raptors banking on his former first-round talent?

The exact details of Dekker’s contract aren’t known yet but odds are he won’t be coming in at anything more than the veteran minimum.

If that proves to be true, then the Raptors’ rationale for taking a flyer on Dekker becomes a little clearer.

Not only could he fill a need for the Raptors, but he could also prove to be a buy-low bargain if there’s still any of that former first-round talent left in him.

Of course, morally, the decision to bring in Dekker doesn’t look great right now, but this is also just how pro sports operate.

The chance at a low-cost reclamation project with first-round talent who also fills a need may have been just too good a proposition to pass up for the Raptors.

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