Photo by Peter Baltazar
DeMar DeRozan of the Toronto Raptors and Wesley Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers flew to this basketball-crazed nation to highlight the NBA 3X Philippines 2014 presented by Sprite slated from July 4 to 6 at the SM Mall of Asia Music Hall in Pasay City.
For the unitiated, DeRozan was drafted by the Raptors at ninth overall in the 2009 NBA rookie class headed by Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers and made the All-Star for the first time this year. Johnson, for his part, was the Minnesota Timberwolves' fourth overall pick the next year behind the Washington Wizards' John Wall, Evan Turner of the Philadelphia Sixers and the Utah Jazz's Derrick Favors and signed for the Lakers last year where he had career high averages across the board--points (9.1), blocks (1), steals (1.1) and rebounds (4.4).
Sure, DeRozan and Johnson are excited to make the Manila trip for the first time in their lives but I'm sure somewhere deep down in the recesses of their minds, they're thinking of the NBA free agency.
DeRozan, in fact, learned here on local soil that Kyle Lowry has been recently re-signed by the Raptors for a four-year, $48 million deal which would practically keep the core of the Toronto team that made the playoffs for the first time since making it that far six seasons back.
And here was DeRozan's first reaction on his Twitter account @DeMar_DeRozan: "S/o (shoutout) to my dog @Klow7 (Kyle Lowry)! Well deserved! #ProveEm."
As for wild, wild Wes, he is technically an unrestricted free agent.
As for his next team, it is still up in the air.
NBA.com Philippines as well as other sportswriters were lucky enough though to be told by Johnson himself on where he will probably head next.
"I've talked to three teams so far," said Johnson when asked by yours truly on his thoughts of the free agency. Dissatisified, NBA.com Phl dag even deeper and popped the question on which teams are those three and Johnson has these as answers: "Memphis, New Orleans and, of course, the Lakers."
We wish you luck Wes, wherever you may land.
Photo by Peter Baltazar
During the press conference proper though, only the host, the amiable Chiqui Reyes, was the only person allowed to asked questions and asked six. One of those was who will win if DeRozan and Johnson play each other one on one.
For DeRozan, who led the Raptors in scoring with 23.9 points a game including a career-high 40-point game against the Dallas Mavericks last Jan. 14, he thinks Johnson's jump shots are hard to stop and said he can make those a lot before saying "As long as I get the ball first, I will be all right."
For Johnson, he knew DeRozan will be tough to handle but likewise stated he'll also be okay as long as he gets the ball first.
Unanswered, DeRozan and Johnson asked back and threw the question back straight to Reyes, who wisely responded that it will be tough to call. Likewise left with no answer, he threw it Carlo Singson, NBA Phl's country manager, who just shrugged his shoulders.
Not Sprite executive Atty. Adel Tamano, who called it a draw.
But really, who is the better player? For now, we will probably say it's going to be DeRozan because he can really score practically everywhere. But I will be scared for DeRozan if the one guarding him is Johnson, who is fast emerging as one of the best wing defender in the NBA.
And I'm not joking.
It's also nice to see pretty faces like the Raptors Dance Pak, who brought in six of their lovely ladies, Janaye Upshaw, Kalina Sutaroski, Mahta Fahendeg Sadi, Mariah Sousa-Sampson, Nina Pizans and Stephanie Matos. Unfortunately, they did not perform on the spot as been the annual tradition.
Thankfully, there are still three days to catch them perform in the NBA 3X Philippines 2014 presented by Sprise this weekend starting Friday and the girls promised to put energy to their performance and bring it.
And oh, there's the Sacramento Kings' mascot named Slamson the Lion, whose highlight was when he touches Chiqui Reyes' nate when he was being interviewed.
I love the NBA.
Follow me on Twitter: @JoeySVillar
Joey Villar is a columnist for NBA.com Philippines. His views do not reflect those of the NBA and its partners.