DeMar DeRozan takes credit for Raptors rise: 'I had to be the sacrificial lamb'

The Toronto Raptors’ rise to the NBA Finals has been a long journey, one that’s seen past teams featuring stars like Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter and Chris Bosh fall short.

It’s also a run that’s taking place without the player perhaps most associated with the franchise — DeMar DeRozan.

DeRozan played his entire career with the Raptors since being drafted out of USC in 2009 until being traded to the San Antonio Spurs in a package to acquire Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green last summer.

How is DeRozan experiencing Raptors’ success?

It was an emotional split for the four-time All-Star, who had battled with his Toronto teammates through several seasons that saw them finish near or at the top of the Eastern Conference standings but ultimately ended in the playoffs at the hands of LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers.

Now the Raptors are competing for a championship, and DeRozan is left to watch from afar, with eyes on many of his teammates he calls friends.

How does he feel watching the Raptors on TV? He opened up on the experience in an interview with Bleacher Report’s Taylor Rooks.

DeRozan: ‘I had to be the sacrificial lamb’

He’s still emotional. And he expressed a lingering attachment to the team, taking credit for what he sees as his role in the Raptors’ current success.

"Honestly, I don't think I even said this — I probably said it to my own inner circle — but if it wasn't for all the years and groundwork that I did before then, none of them things would've been possible," DeRozan told Bleacher Report. "Yes, I fought, I sacrificed, I pushed the limits to where I had to be the sacrificial lamb.”

DeRozan then took it one step further, calling himself “the reason” for the Raptors success.

"You just have to sit back and understand, like, you know, you are the reason so many things was even possible."

DeRozan’s ultimate value was to obtain Leonard

In a way, DeRozan is right. He was the centerpiece from Toronto’s side of the deal that brought them Leonard, the player who has pushed them past the edge of where the team could go with DeRozan as its leader. Without him and the trade value he presented, the Raptors would not have Leonard today.

DeRozan gave Toronto nine excellent seasons that saw the Raptors consistently competitive in his prime. But they couldn’t break through with him as their No. 1 guy. General manager Masai Ujiri realized that and pulled the trigger on a high-risk, high-reward gamble that has paid off with a Finals appearance.

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Photos and major moments from the 2019 NBA Finals
Golden State Warriors guard Quinn Cook, left, passes the ball around Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard (2) during second-half basketball action in Game 5 of the NBA Finals in Toronto, Monday, June 10, 2019. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)
Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant, left, falls over Toronto Raptors center Serge Ibaka, bottom, as Warriors forward Andre Iguodala (9) looks on during first-half basketball game action in Game 5 of the NBA Finals in Toronto, Monday, June 10, 2019. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Golden State Warriors forward Andre Iguodala (9) stops Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet (23) during the second half of Game 4 of basketball’s NBA Finals, Friday, June 7, 2019, in Oakland, Calif. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) makes a layup as Golden State Warriors forward Jordan Bell (2) defends during the first half of Game 3 of basketball’s NBA Finals, Wednesday, June 5, 2019, in Oakland, Calif. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Raptors center Marc Gasol (33) is defended by Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson, left, and center DeMarcus Cousins during the second half of Game 4 of basketball's NBA Finals in Oakland, Calif., Friday, June 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
Toronto Raptors center Serge Ibaka (9) dunks against the Golden State Warriors during the second half of Game 4 of basketball's NBA Finals in Oakland, Calif., Friday, June 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar, Pool)
TORONTO, ONTARIO - JUNE 10: Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors reacts after sustaining an injury during the second quarter against the Toronto Raptors during Game Five of the 2019 NBA Finals at Scotiabank Arena on June 10, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ONTARIO - JUNE 10: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the Toronto Raptors attempts a shot against Klay Thompson #11 of the Golden State Warriors during Game Five of the 2019 NBA Finals at Scotiabank Arena on June 10, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Pool - Nathan Denette/Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 05: Kyle Lowry #7 of the Toronto Raptors argues with Warriors minority investor Mark Stevens (blue shirt) after Lowry chased down a loose ball in the second half against the Golden State Warriors during Game Three of the 2019 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 05, 2019 in Oakland, California. According to to the Warriors, Stevens will not be in attendance for the remainder of the NBA Finals as they look further into the incident. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 05: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the Toronto Raptors attempts a shot against the Golden State Warriors during Game Three of the 2019 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 05, 2019 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ONTARIO - MAY 30: DeMarcus Cousins #0 of the Golden State Warriors attempts to block a shot from Serge Ibaka #9 of the Toronto Raptors in the second half during Game One of the 2019 NBA Finals at Scotiabank Arena on May 30, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ONTARIO - MAY 30: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors attempts a shot against Marc Gasol #33 of the Toronto Raptors in the second half during Game One of the 2019 NBA Finals at Scotiabank Arena on May 30, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard (2) drives to the net against Golden State Warriors guard Andre Iguodala (9) during the first half of Game 1 of basketball’s NBA Finals, Thursday, May 30, 2019, in Toronto. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Raptors' Kawhi Leonard (2) drives to the basket as Golden State Warriors' Andre Iguaodala (9) defends during Game 1 of basketball's NBA Finals in Toronto on Thursday, May 30, 2019. (Gregory Shamus/Pool Photo via AP)
Toronto Raptors guard Danny Green (14) reacts after making a 3-pointer against the Golden State Warriors during the first half of Game 1 of basketball’s NBA Finals, Thursday, May 30, 2019, in Toronto. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry fouls Golden State Warriors centre Kevon Looney (5) during the second half of Game 1 of basketball’s NBA Finals, Thursday, May 30, 2019, in Toronto. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)
Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) reacts during the second half of Game 1 of the team's basketball’s NBA Finals against the Toronto Raptors on Thursday, May 30, 2019, in Toronto. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
TORONTO, ONTARIO - JUNE 02: Marc Gasol #33 of the Toronto Raptors reacts to a foul call against the Golden State Warriors in the first half during Game Two of the 2019 NBA Finals at Scotiabank Arena on June 02, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ONTARIO - JUNE 02: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors is defended by Fred VanVleet #23 of the Toronto Raptors in the first half during Game Two of the 2019 NBA Finals at Scotiabank Arena on June 02, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ONTARIO - MAY 30: Rapper Drake and Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors exchange words during a timeout in the first quarter during Game One of the 2019 NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Toronto Raptors at Scotiabank Arena on May 30, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
Toronto Raptors' Kawhi Leonard (2) drives to the basket as Golden State Warriors' Andre Iguaodala (9) defends during Game 1 of basketball's NBA Finals in Toronto on Thursday, May 30, 2019. (Gregory Shamus/Pool Photo via AP)
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DeRozan coming to terms with deal

DeRozan was understandably initially bitter when he was traded from the team and the city he had grown to love, lashing out on Instagram about trust and loyalty.

“Be told one thing & outcome another,” DeRozan wrote after the deal. “Can’t trust em. Ain’t no loyalty in this game. Sell you out quit for a little bit of nothing…soon you’ll understand… Don’t disturb ...”

But now that the Raptors are experiencing new heights — and with the benefit of time — even DeRozan appears to have conceded that they made the right move, even if it was a painful one.

"To their credit, they probably felt like it was time to see what we could get to make that next jump," DeRozan told Bleacher Report. “ ... For that to be gone like that, when you least expect it, it just throws you off guard. You know, we human at the end of the day, and it definitely hits you."

So who is DeRozan supporting in Finals?

Does that mean he’s pulling for the Raptors? Thanks to his relationships with his former teammates — Kyle Lowry in particular — he says he is.

"You’ve got to understand. My best friend is Kyle. I'm rooting for my best friend to do well, to accomplish something that we tried to do all the years, and he has the opportunity to do it. All the guys on that team, they know I'm rooting for them."

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