As the season shifts to the Play-In Tournament, DeMar DeRozan found himself standing in a familiar place.
DeRozan, now the star swingman of the Chicago Bulls, has fought for themselves on the 10th slate of the Eastern Conference. The challenging path to enter the playoff arena will require him to outlast the ninth-seeded Toronto Raptors – his former franchise.
“The irony of it, just the whole thing – it’s always a full-circle moment going back,” DeRozan said, via Julia Poe of The Chicago Tribune. “It’s going to be interesting.”
DeRozan, who started his career as a Raptor in 2009, developed his game in front of die-hard Canadian fans. He went on to blossom and became their basketball hero, leading them to five straight playoff appearances and a trip to the East Finals in 2016.
Despite the consistent appearances in the postseason, the Raptors ultimately traded him away out of championship desperation last 2018 offseason, acquiring Kawhi Leonard in a blockbuster deal with the San Antonio Spurs.
And the rest was history.
For DeRozan, he fully understands the pressure and hostility that will rain around Scotiabank Arena in his homecoming on Wednesday night, given the fact that the victors will proceed to fight for the last seat in the Conference playoff bracket.
“I say a joke about it here and there, just how crazy it’s going to be,” DeRozan said. “The atmosphere will feel like it’s an Eastern Conference finals game in a play-in game. Driving to the arena, walking through the arena, you’re definitely going to feel it. That’s the beauty of that place and those fans, and any competitor will want to be part of that for sure.”
As such, the star veteran can only accept the upcoming challenge. The Raptors have proven themselves as a strong defensive team against him this year, limiting the forward to just 14 points average in three meetings they played.
“I’m going to deal with it,” DeRozan said. “I know how to deal with it now. But playing against Nick and playing against those guys, they try to do everything in their power to make sure I don’t beat them.
“I’m aware of it for sure. For my sake, I definitely have my own theory around it for what I’m going to do.”
At the end of the day, no matter what has happened in the past and is set to take place moving to Wednesday, the city of Toronto still has a special place in the heart of DeRozan.
“I will never be a villain in Toronto,” DeRozan said.