The Toronto Raptors introduced their new model perimeter player, DeMar DeRozan, yesterday, even as it appeared the old model, Anthony Parker, is unlikely to return to the club.
The veteran shooting guard has been the picture of consistency with the Raptors, but at age 34 and looking for one last lucrative contract, the market for his services both in the NBA and overseas may prove too rich for Toronto.
According to league sources at least five NBA teams inquired about Parker in the lead-up to Thursday night's draft, where Toronto took DeRozan ninth overall out of the University of Southern California.
The five teams to ask about Parker, a free agent on July 1st, include San Antonio, Boston, Phoenix, Cleveland and Oklahoma City. While their intensity of interest might vary, it's clear Parker will be able to find work and perhaps a multiyear deal in the NBA should he choose after his three-year, $12-million (U.S.) contract expires on Tuesday.
Given the Raptors have made a qualifying offer to Carlos Delfino and have pledged heavy minutes to DeRozan, it's not clear how much they would want to spend on Parker in a back-up role.
Another scenario could see Parker return to play in the Euroleague, where the market for good talent still appears strong. Raptors back-up point guard Roko Ukic has been offered a two-year deal worth about $5-million U.S. (net after taxes) to play for Greek power Olympiacos next season, or roughly double what his deal with the Raptors is worth, though he's expected to return to Toronto.
Neither Parker nor his agent, Henry Thomas, could be reached for comment.
The possibility of losing Parker in part explains the Raptors determination to draft DeRozan, a 6-foot-7 guard with the gait of a track-and-field star. But even if Parker returns, the Raptors would be in dire need of some high-octane talent on the perimeter and think they've got some and more.
"We spoke specifically about [adding]athleticism and talent on the wing," said Raptors president Bryan Colangelo while introducing DeRozan. "And [the answer for]that glaring need is sitting right here next to me."
How athletic? DeRozan was asked how high he can touch on the backboard, given his vertical jump was measured at 39 inches at the NBA's pre-draft testing.
"Way above the square," said DeRozan, referring to the white-lined target behind the rim, the top of which is 11½ feet off the ground. "I can get my head level with the rim."
Did he ever play against anyone in college he thought a better athlete?
"No," said DeRozan. "Not once."
It's that kind of raw ability that inspired Colangelo to compare the Compton, Calif., resident with former Raptor Vince Carter, whose jaw-dropping leaping ability during his Toronto years remains most NBA observers' gold standard.
But Colangelo allowed that Carter, who averaged 18.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.0 assists as a rookie before blossoming into a consistent top-10 scorer, was more NBA ready, having played three seasons at the University of North Carolina. DeRozan didn't shy away from the Carter comparison, but likely won some fans when he said his focus is on having an impact at both ends of the court.
"I can play both ends," said DeRozan. "That's one thing I really stress ... I really want to give it my all on the offensive and defensive end."
He averaged 13.9 points and 5.7 rebounds on 52.3-per-cent shooting as a freshman, but had a blistering finish to his brief college career, averaging 20.5 points and 9.3 rebounds over a four-game stretch that included the semi-finals and finals of the Pac-10 tournament and the first two games of the NCAA tournament.
He handled himself with ease at the media conference yesterday despite a late night and an early flight from New York. He's excited about the prospect of taking on LeBron James in the dunk contest if he gets a chance. He said all the right things about his new city and shrugged off any concerns about missing winter in Southern California, saying he'll just have to buy some bigger coats.
His motivation for coming out of school early was plain: he wants to be able to afford the best possible medical care for his mother, Diane, who has been battling Lupus for six years. And even though his NBA dream has finally come through, he doesn't feel he's arrived.
"I'm not half as good as I want to be," he said.
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