The Toronto Raptors have been busy. After bringing Tim Leiweke and Masai Ujiri into the fold, they’re only getting started.
Back in Los Angeles, DeMar DeRozan has had an eventful offseason of his own, complete with his own new addition. Arriving on Mother’s Day, DeRozan and his fiancee welcomed their first child, a daughter. A month later, he was invited to Team USA’s minicamp.
In between working out and enjoying fatherhood, he has been talking with his coach, Dwane Casey, and new general manager, Ujiri.
“I talk to Casey,” DeRozan said. “We always talk about the playoff games, the Finals. We text during the games, small talk. I talk to him about what we can be better at as a team, as well as me personally. I talk to him often. I had a chance to talk to Masai, had a good conversation with him.”
Thursday afternoon, Casey told reporters the team would be going back to its defensive identity this season.
“When Indiana and Miami were playing, I was talking to Casey,” DeRozan said. “We were talking about defence. That’s how we’ve got to take each game, each quarter, each possession. It’s going to be tough, grind, hard-fought defence. That’s how we’re going to have to play.”
Nate Robinson is not new to Kicks On Court.
The state of Nate is very much intact and has, in fact, always been marked by consistency since the beginnings of our Kicks On Court column. If you recall, Nate was the first ever Kicks On Court Champion in 2010, wearing sneakers such as the “Birthday Bundle” LeBron IV, the “Altitude” 13s and the “St. Vincent-St. Mary” LeBron V. His reputation as a sneaker guy in the NBA is well documented, and even his peers take notice of what graces his feet on the regular.
“You know, Nate is going to go to the extreme with his kicks on court,” said fellow Kicks On Court Champion nominee Nick Young. “That’s just what he does.”
Nate has always worn a medley of sneakers on court; Barkleys, Pennys, Kobes, Jordans and LeBrons have all been laced up by him throughout his career. Yet, this season he was granted the opportunity to play for the team his childhood idol, Michael Jordan, led during the 90s. For Nate, that meant playing in the United Center, donning pinstripe uniforms and channeling MJ in everything from jaw-dropping highlights to kicks on court.
“Before the season, I went back and watched MJ play, and I paid attention to what he wore against certain teams,” said Robinson. “Some of those games inspired what I wore this season.”
The inspiration was definitely obvious on some nights more than others. Sure, he wore an array of Jordans on court for the majority of the season (all but one game this year), including the “Hare” Air Jordan 7, the “Taxi” Air Jordan 12 and the “Miro” Air Jordan 7, but there were certain notable choices he made in literally trying to be like Mike. For example, Robinson specifically rocked the “Concord” Air Jordan 11 in one of the few games that the Chicago Bulls donned the ever-so-popular pinstripe uniforms. The “Concord” 11 has been a common wear in the NBA for the past couple of seasons, but having the presence of mind to wear a shoe MJ wore consistently with those same pinstripe uniforms was, well, Jordan-like.
SLAM: So what were your expectations going into your first season in the League?
Damian Lillard: I just wanted to have an impact, man. I knew I was going to have an opportunity because of how many [players] they had at my position. They weren’t really deep, so I knew I was going to have the opportunity, and I knew I was going to have to be productive if our team was going to win games. So coming in, I just told myself, “Be ready.” That was the biggest thing coming into the season, I wanted to be ready, I wanted to be productive so I could do my job, and it worked well.
SLAM: What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned this year?
DL: The biggest thing is to be consistent. I think when you’re able to perform every night in the League, that’s what makes you valuable. It’s such a long season, especially when you play a lot of minutes, it’s tough to bring it every night. But if can, that’s what can separate you and bring you apart from a lot of guys. So, the first thing, I learned is to be consistent. If you look at all the guys that you always hear about, like LeBron, KD, Westbrook, you can see that every night, their stat line is there, and their teams are winning a lot of games.
The second thing was to keep an open mind, especially as a rookie. Coming in I had to learn a lot on the fly. I was in the [spotlight] playing. My team was dependent on me a lot, so I had to watch a lot of film and I had to listen to what the refs were telling me. After games, I would listen to opposing veteran point guards and what they’d tell me. Chauncey Billups might throw something out there. Chris Paul might throw some tips out there. So I just kept an open mind about those things. I’m just trying to learn as much as I can, and just be consistent and be a sponge.
SLAM: You were asked to lead the Blazers right from the start. How did you deal with that kind of pressure so early on in your career?
DL: It’s natural for me. I’ve always been a leader. All the people that I keep in my circle are like general-type dudes. They’re leaders themselves and it’s just natural for me. The biggest thing is that I’m comfortable with myself. I know I’m going to take care of my own stuff, I know I’m going to work hard and handle my business. So I feel comfortable holding other people accountable and leading a group of men.
An online petition called “Keep Nate Robinson in Chicago” was put together by a Bulls fan who says, in part, “Nate Robinson is an integral part of Chicago Bulls family. His energy, passion and scoring prowess have contributed heavily to the success of this team. Robinson, a seven-year veteran, has always showed flashes of genius, but it wasn’t until this year with the bulls that he really seemed to come into his own.”
Indeed he did. So much so that the NBA went so far as to make a commercial around his Game 4 heroics.
Who knows what the future will bring for Nate Robinson as it relates to the Bulls? He’s obviously earned himself a pay raise plus job security in the form of a long-term deal next season based on his performance this season.
We knew something had changed with DeMar DeRozan when he laced up the Air Jordan 11 Low White/Red in the Raptors’ first preseason game this year. You see, the former USC Trojan had exclusively rocked the Kobe signature line since he stepped foot into the league at the beginning of the 2009-2010 NBA season. Attention-worthy player exclusives and NikeiD versions of the Kobes IV-VII graced DeMar DeRozan’s feet throughout his first three seasons in the league. Yet, this season, DeMar predetermined to switch his on-court rotation up – at least for the beginning of the year.
“I usually wear Kobes for the entire season, but I wanted to start off the season with something different in the process of me waiting on the Kobe 8s to come in,” said DeRozan. “I just tried to go with old retro Jordans that we haven’t seen on the court in a while.”
And he did just that. In Toronto’s first 15 matchups of the season, DeRozan donned a different pair of Jordans every single game, including a few that haven’t appeared on court in 5+ years. The “Black Cat” 4s, the “Fire Red 5s (red sole) and the Countdown Pack Air Jordan 13 were just a few of the rarely-seen Jordans DeRozan displayed on court this season, which should’ve proved to everybody that this guy is not limited to Kobes.
“I’ve always collected classic Jordans and Nikes and instead of wearing them out with casual clothes, I just decided to bring them to the court this season,” DeRozan stated.