Free agency beckoning, DeRozan sounds happy with Raptors

TORONTO (AP) — For a guy about to hit free agency for the first time, DeMar DeRozan doesn’t sound as if he’s looking for a change of scenery.

A day after the deepest playoff run in Toronto Raptors history ended in a Game 6 loss that sent LeBron James and Cleveland to the NBA Finals, DeRozan spoke glowingly about the growth he’s witnessed with the only NBA team he’s played for.

DeRozan averaged a career-best 23.5 points in his seventh season with the Raptors. He’s expected to decline the player option on the final season of his four-year, $38 million contract and become a free agent.

The two-time All-Star talked up Toronto as his preferred destination.

“My mindset has always been Toronto,” DeRozan said as Raptors players gathered Saturday for exit interviews. “I’ve always preached it. I was passionate about it when we were losing. When we were terrible I’d say ‘I’m going to stick through this whole thing and I want to be that guy who brings the organization to where it is now.’ I definitely don’t want to switch up after we win.”

After going 22-60 five years ago, the Raptors won a franchise-record 56 games this season and have captured three straight Atlantic Division titles. They boast a brand new practice facility and hosted their first All-Star game this season.

That isn’t all Toronto offers – the Raptors can give DeRozan more money and more years than any other team.

Still, DeRozan talked about loyalty, and said he likes the idea of spending his whole career with one organization.

“I think that’s the most incredible thing you can do,” he said. “That’s awesome.”

Fellow All-Star Kyle Lowry went through free agency two years ago, eventually choosing to re-sign with the Raptors. The decision period, Lowry remembers, was “a fun stress.”

Recalling how much he appreciated DeRozan being an opinion-free sounding board, Lowry said he intends to return the favor to his good friend. This time, he doesn’t expect any stress.

“It’s going to be easy, because all I have to do is listen,” Lowry said. “I’ll just hold the phone like ‘Yeah, uh huh.’ He might want to FaceTime though.”

Center Bismack Biyombo also is expected to test free agency. Biyombo filled in capably for Jonas Valanciunas after Toronto’s starter sprained his right ankle in the second round against Miami. Biyombo set a Raptors record with 26 rebounds as Toronto won Game 3 of the conference finals, snapping Cleveland’s 10-game playoff streak.

After performances like that, Biyombo will likely command a big raise on the $2.9 million he earned this year.

“For me it’s about winning,” Biyombo said about what he’ll be looking for. “Starting or not starting, it doesn’t matter. I know I can start but it’s not the most important thing to me.”

After their historic season, the Raptors are expected to pick up the $4 million option on coach Dwane Casey’s contract, and could offer him an extension.

Lowry battled a sore elbow down the stretch and throughout the playoffs and said the injury would be closely examined in his season-ending physical.

“It’s not a serious concern, but its a concern,” he said.

Another concern for Toronto is figuring out a way to beat LeBron, who’s about to represent the Eastern Conference in the finals for a sixth straight year.

“We’re not missing much,” DeRozan said in comparing the Raptors to the Cavaliers. “We’re not missing much at all. That team was disciplined. They executed. They did every single thing they needed to do to win the game. We had too many lapses. They took advantage of that. That’s where you gotta grow as a team. Adding a couple more pieces that would solidify that.”

Toronto has two first round picks in next month’s draft, including the ninth overall selection. Asked whether he’d prefer veterans or young talent to help put his team over the top, Casey deflected the question to GM Masai Ujiri, who’ll address the media next week.

“Any time you have draft picks, they’re great assets,” Casey said. “It’s like gold. They’re tradable or, if you keep them, there’s a lot of good players out there.”

Whatever happens next with the Raptors, DeRozan believes they’ve done plenty to be proud of.

“It’s just so much to look back on and so much to take in all at once now,” he said. “Throughout the summer, when you really look back on things or you get asked about certain situations that happened, you’ll start to realize, ‘Damn, we really did something.'”

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