Management, especially in a volatile industry like professional basketball, will say and do a lot of shit to appease the labor. Blake Griffin received a fake jersey retirement procession during the Clippers’ bid to get to him to re-sign last summer, and the team also put him on a t-shirt alongside JFK, Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Lincoln, and Mahatma Gandhi during that same pitch. The Clippers traded him five months later. What happened to former Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan is similar, but without quite the same pomp.
DeRozan was traded to the San Antonio Spurs for Kawhi Leonard on Wednesday, just a few weeks after he was assured that he wouldn’t be traded by Raptors brass. In today’s press conference, Raptors president Masai Ujiri issued a non-denial denial to those assertions from DeRozan’s camp. The team executive said that “[if] there was a miscommunication there, I do apologize to DeMar,” without going so far as to deny the notion that he told DeRozan he would not be shipped off:
“I had a conversation with DeMar at summer league, and I really want to leave it at that,” Ujiri said Friday. “We spoke ... I think maybe my mistake was talking about what we expected going forward from him. So, not necessarily talking about a trade but what I expect from him going forward, and I think that’s where the gap was.”
“In my job, I always have to assume we’re going forward with the team that I have. If there was a miscommunication there, I do apologize to DeMar and his family and his representation. It’s not what I meant.”
“Not necessarily talking about a trade” is a mighty-fine hedge.
DeRozan loved it in Toronto, and re-signed last summer without so much as meeting with another team, more than content with his choice. “I am Toronto,” he declared after his press conference to announce the signing. He has the word “loyalty” tattooed on his left hand. In an Instagram story posted after Friday’s press conference, DeRozan delivered a message, not dissimilar to the cryptic messages he sent out right before he was due to be traded:
It’s worth stating again: The people in charge of sports teams will only factor in loyalty when it doesn’t interfere with their greater plans for success. The opportunity to get Kawhi Leonard, vague quadriceps injury or not, was too appealing to pass up for Ujiri. He said as much in his press conference: “When you have a chance to get a top-five player, which doesn’t come very often, I think you have to jump on it.” For him, that meant blindsiding a player who loved where he was.