DeRozan praises Pop, time spent in San Antonio

  • Bulls guard DeMar DeRozan -- here playing for the Spurs and being guarded by the Knicks' Elfrid Payton last May -- said he was looking forward to his return Friday to San Antonio.

    Bulls guard DeMar DeRozan -- here playing for the Spurs and being guarded by the Knicks' Elfrid Payton last May -- said he was looking forward to his return Friday to San Antonio. Associated Press

Updated 1/28/2022 2:29 PM

DeMar DeRozan's three years in San Antonio went fine.

He averaged at least 21 points every season and delivered the three highest assist averages he's had in his NBA career. In 2019, the Spurs took Denver to seven games in a 2 vs. 7 first-round playoff series.


But San Antonio missed the playoffs the next two seasons, which meant the dynasty was officially beyond sight of the review mirror. Outside of the eight-game Orlando bubble, the Spurs were rarely on national television.

Maybe that's why so many people have been surprised by DeRozan's success with the Bulls. He made his first return to San Antonio on Friday, the day after being named an all-star starter.

"I think it's going to be not as emotional as my Toronto first return was," DeRozan said. "This one will be more exciting in the sense of I'm just happy to get back and see the fans, see Pop, see the players and kind of just go out there and compete. I'm looking forward to it."

DeRozan arrived just in time to wish former coach Gregg Popovich a happy 73rd birthday. He had plenty of good things to say about the three years they spent together.

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"He challenged me beyond my imagination on and off the court to develop, to be a better individual," DeRozan said. "But on the court he just brought a lot of things out of me that I didn't know was in there at that point in my career.

"I've got to give so much credit to him for that because he took that stance the first day I came to San Antonio and it did so much for me to be able to be the player I am now."

As far as going from one of the league's biggest stars in Toronto, starting consecutive All-Star Games in 2017 and '18, to being away from the spotlight in San Antonio, DeRozan suggested it's just all part of the journey.

"I was growing," he said. "You kind of get knocked down from being traded from the situation you thought you wanted to be in for your whole career; you kind of have to start over in every type of way."


Unlike most of his predecessors in Toronto, DeRozan embraced playing in Canada. So it was a harsh experience to be traded for Kawhi Leonard in 2018 and watching the Raptors win a title without him.

"You have to just soak in so much new information so quick," DeRozan said. "It was one of those moments for me feeling like I was just growing, like it was a new complete situation for me. The things I was dealing with off the court was a lot, and basketball was one of those things I was trying to figure it out again.

"I just stayed locked in and tried to figure out how could I continue to get better, be better, be better, be better. It got me to this point."

Rest and recovered:

DeMar DeRozan took a rest day Monday when the Bulls played at Oklahoma City. He scored 41 points the night before against Orlando and came back with 29 against the Raptors on Wednesday. After the game, he was asked if the day off made a difference.

"Everything. It did everything for me," DeRozan answered. "I ain't 20-30 no more. Just trying to stay healthy the best I can.

"I rarely do it (take a night off), but that was just an opportunity for me to take advantage of right then and there. I'm probably not going to do it again for a while, knock on wood."

Three or less:

Since Dec. 29, DeRozan has made 3 3-point baskets -- the two buzzer-beating game-winners at Indiana on Dec. 31 and Washington on Jan. 1, then another one against Toronto on Wednesday.

DeRozan has long been known as a master of the midrange. And while he shoots more 3s than he used to, it's not anything he's focused on.

"I don't seek out or walk away from games saying, 'Dang, I didn't shoot a 3 or I didn't make a 3,' " he said. "I just go out there and play. Whatever shots I take for the night, that's the shots I take for the night. But I'll never be conscious of going into games saying, 'I need to make a 3.' "

If DeRozan hits 10 more 3-pointers, he'll have more makes for the Bulls this season than in his three seasons with the Spurs combined.


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