NBA teams are generally happy to land a draft pick in the top four or five slots depending on the strength of the incoming class. While draft order does not determine the eventual success of a player's career, it is as good of an indication available of what the perceived value of a young prospect might be. For example, the Toronto Raptors struck gold in the 2009 NBA Draft when they selected DeMar DeRozan with the ninth overall pick, finding in DeRozan a player that committed himself to the betterment of the franchise.
Three years later, the Raptors acquired underrated guard Kyle Lowry, a gritty floor general from the Houston Rockets whose photo should be in the dictionary under "late bloomer." In the two guards, the Raptors had a core of talented players with a chip on their shoulder who wanted nothing more than to get the respect that they deserved.
DeRozan and Lowry spent six seasons together in Toronto and built a culture of team-first, winning basketball. With the two at the helm, the Raptors were always among the top teams in the Eastern Conference and probably would have made the NBA Finals a few times if not for a man named LeBron James. DeMar and Kyle became the best of friends as they tried to take the Toronto Raptors to new heights, but in the summer of 2018, the Raptors front office made a move that would change the course of the franchise's history. DeRozan was traded to the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for Kawhi Leonard.
DeMar was quite open about how much the Raptors, more specifically Masai Ujiri, hurt his feelings. DeRozan made it clear he understands the business side of the NBA, but Ujiri specifically told him he's not on the trading block a few days before trading him, and that hurt. But that didn't impact his bond with Lowry (who didn't speak to Ujiri for a while after the trade). When asked to put his relationship with Lowry into words, DeRozan's first answer was that he can't. Then he tried the best he could.
"If my mom had another son, it'd be Kyle. If his mom had another son, it'd be me. That's as simple as I can put it. That's how close we are. That's what it is to me."
DeMar DeRozan, KCJ Hoop
Playoff battle incoming?
Both players have moved on from their time in Toronto, Lowry with a ring and DeMar still chasing his first one. DeRozan is now with the Chicago Bulls, who have surprised everybody but themselves with their success early in the season. Lowry's Heat now sits a game behind the Brooklyn Nets for the top seed in the East, while DeMar's Bulls are right in the middle of the pack at fifth, slowly gaining steam to make several strong pushes throughout the season. With the way they are playing and how the younger teammates they are mentoring have followed, Lowry could likely be standing in DeMar's way as he pursues his first NBA title.
The Brooklyn Nets have performed poorly against teams above .500, while the Milwaukee Bucks understand that getting healthy for the playoffs is their best strategy towards a repeat. With both of the top teams either pacing themselves or underperforming due to absentee personnel, the top spot in the East is right there for Miami's taking. The Heat have a relatively new roster and need time to figure things out, which is partly why they are incentivized to continue to play hard each time they step on the court.
As for the Chicago Bulls, I see them finishing the regular season in either the fourth or fifth spot, depending on what happens with the Ben Simmons fiasco in Philadelphia. The Knicks are struggling to put some offense together as Kemba Walker continues to be a disappointment, and as Washington starts to cool off, the only team other than Chicago that can take their spot in the top four is last year's conference finalist, the Atlanta Hawks.
With DeRozan, the Bulls now have a veteran star who can deliver in the playoffs and take the young talent along with him, and this makes Chicago more than capable of beating whoever they get in the first round. The Heat will likely take care of whoever is eighth, setting up a clash of the Raptor brothers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
In this fantasy matchup, Miami indeed has the upper hand. Still, DeRozan is the type of player who can take over a series offensively, even against a seasoned defensive team such as the Heat. DeRozan can get to his spots and put pressure on the defense so he can get to the free-throw line, all very crucial elements of winning basketball games in the playoffs. It might even take Kyle Lowry switching onto DeMar to stop DeRozan's assault, and once again, DeRozan will be faced with the prospect of his brother winning another title without him.
Who knows how the rest of the season will unfold. But with the Lakers and Nets unintentionally sabotaging the preseason's big storyline, I can't think of a better second story than this. Two best friends were going against each other in the conference semifinals, with one still trying to win his first ring after being the player dealt for the superstar who took his former team to the promised land. Let's hope that both teams can stay healthy and that we get to see DeRozan and Lowry go at it in a seven-game series in the first, second or maybe even final round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs.