TORONTO -- If DeMar DeRozan is planning to leave the Toronto Raptors, he is the most devious man on Earth. He spent almost 20 minutes Saturday talking about how proud he is to have stuck things out in Toronto and how much he still wants to accomplish with the franchise that drafted him.
DeRozan will be an unrestricted free agent in July, and the NBA's new television deal means he can make an estimated starting salary of $25 million next year. About 12 hours after the best Raptors season ever ended, a reporter asked DeRozan if he could find a better situation than what he has here.
"I don't think so," DeRozan said. "My mindset has always been Toronto. I always preached it. I was passionate about it when we was losing. When we was terrible, I said I'm going to stick through this whole thing and I want to be that guy who brings this organization to where it is now. I definitely don't want to switch up after we win."
That sounds like an intention to commit to the team, the reporter pointed out.
"I mean, you got a couple trick questions today, huh?" DeRozan said.
It sounds like this is a place you want to stay, the reporter responded.
"I've been saying it for, how long I been here, Doug?" DeRozan said, looking toward veteran Toronto Star Raptors beat writer Doug Smith. "Long time. I haven't changed, not one bit. I took pride in putting that Raptors jersey on when people counted us out or when people said, 'Why go to Toronto? Why this, why, that, why this, why that.' You hear it so much. That gave me the motivation to want to prove people wrong or prove critics wrong."
Reports have indicated DeRozan's hometown Los Angeles Lakers will chase him, but he has never said anything to indicate he is looking elsewhere. He remembers when opposing teams expected easy wins in Toronto, and he has done all he can to change that perception.
DeRozan was drafted in 2009 after one year at USC. He was a skinny, long-term project then, praised for his potential and work ethic. Now he is a two-time All-Star and the longest-tenured Raptor. If he re-signs, he will be on a pace to become Toronto's all-time leader in points, minutes and games played by midseason.
"It's crazy -- even now, I see people bring up a tweet I tweeted after Chris [Bosh] left. I don't even remember tweeting it, but I meant that," DeRozan said. "I really meant that. To see how far it came, that's what it's all about."
The tweet read: "Don't worry, I got us.."
DeRozan said that, every time he saw a rumor about free agency, he wondered where it came from. When asked how appealing it would be to play in Los Angeles, he did not exactly plant the seeds for a homecoming.
"How appealing? I grew up in L.A.," DeRozan said. "That's my home. There's not a part of L.A. I haven't seen. I don't get caught up into it. I let whoever comes up with that say what they want to say. Only thing appealing to me is the things I've done in this organization and the things that can be done here. And that's always been my mindset."
Over and over, DeRozan used "we" and "us" to refer to the Raptors. "We had to go through an experience like this to understand how hard it is to get to this point and what we need to do to be better," he said, adding that they just need "a couple more pieces" to become a truly elite team. This feels like a good time to mention that he has the word "loyalty" tattooed on his wrist.
DeRozan called Toronto's locker-room camaraderie "amazing" and "hard to find in this league." He raved about the fans chanting "We The North" after Game 6 ended on Friday. He called general manager Masai Ujiri's passion for winning "incredible." It sounded like the only way he wouldn't be back was if Ujiri decided to let him walk -- a highly unlikely scenario.
In numerous interviews, DeRozan has said he would like to finish his career in Toronto. Given a chance to back away from those statements, he doubled down.
"I think that's the most incredible thing you can do, me personally," he said. "That's awesome."
Free agency can be chaotic, and this offseason's bonanza is unprecedented. For DeRozan and the Raptors, though, all signs point to a continued partnership. Taking two games from the Cleveland Cavaliers in the conference finals was an enormous accomplishment, but their work is not done.
"I'm a loyal person," DeRozan said. "That's just how I live my whole life. Period. And at this point in my career, it's all about winning. That's the only thing that matters."