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Load management doesn’t exist for DeMar DeRozan as he finishes as NBA’s minutes leader

NEW YORK — Coby White watches sides of DeMar DeRozan fans don’t get to see.

The breakout player of the season for the Bulls sees steadiness in his veteran teammate above all.

“He never complains,” White said. “He just loves the game. He loves to hoop.”

DeRozan finished this season as the NBA’s minutes leader after playing 44 minutes in the Bulls’ 120-119 overtime loss at New York on the final day of the regular season. DeRozan logged 2,988 total minutes, the third most of his career and his most since the 2013-14 season.

DeRozan, 34, becomes the first player since LeBron James (33) in 2018 to lead the league in minutes in his 30s. Before that, Elvin Hayes (31) in 1976-77 was the last player to lead the NBA in minutes in his 30s. DeRozan’s 2,988 minutes also are the most since Bradley Beal finished with 3,028 in 2018-19.

“And he doesn’t miss practice. He doesn’t miss shootaround,” White said of DeRozan. “He’s early to everything. Those are the things I notice. He’s always on time. He’s always one of the first ones there. You know how some guys can be. And for him, it’s just his professionalism day in and day out never changes.”

White, 24, ranked third in the NBA in minutes with 2,881. His body took a beating this season. He cringed at the thought of what DeRozan must have dealt with in his 15th season.

“I can’t imagine it,” White said.

Sacramento Kings star Domantas Sabonis finished second in the NBA with 2,921 minutes. Phoenix Suns star Kevin Durant, 35, is the only other player in his 30s to rank in the top 10 in minutes this season.

Only 19 players over the past 20 seasons have ranked among the top 10 in minutes after their 30th birthday. DeRozan on Sunday became just the eighth player over that same span to do it twice. Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol, James, Durant, P.J. Tucker, Russell Westbrook and Nikola Vučević are the others.

“I always joke with a lot of the older guys who are in the league, like a (Chris Paul), like a Kyle (Lowry), like, ‘Man, we’ve got to hold it down for the old guys,’ ” DeRozan said. “Because I hate the stigma in terms that 33, 34, 35 is old. I hate that. So I try to just break the stigma of that. Guys can be well into their mid-30s.

“As long as they take care of themselves they can still go out there and compete and play at a high level just like these young guys. So I take that personal. I take on that challenge every time I go out there and play. And I just want to be out there to show that.”

DeRozan averaged 37.8 minutes in his 79 contests. His career-high for minutes averaged is 38.2, when he logged 3,017 minutes over 79 contests in 2013-14. One season earlier, his fourth year in the NBA, DeRozan played all 82 games for the second time and tallied 3,013 minutes. He also accomplished the rare, 82-game feat in his second season.

“To be honest with you, last year I had a goal. I wanted to play all 82,” DeRozan said. “But I had a quad situation. And last summer I told myself I wanted to be available even more, try to play 82 again. I played 79. I could have played the other night (at Washington). It would have been 80. I missed a game for personal reasons. That’s one (game missed).

“So for me, it’s just a goal of mine with how hard I work, how hard I take care of my body, how hard, after every season, I try to figure out other ways that I can prolong and be even more productive in my career.”

For 15 seasons, DeRozan’s been as durable as they come.

He’s appeared in 1,110 of 1,193 regular-season games, an eye-popping 93 percent of his team’s contests. Since he joined the Bulls in the 2021 offseason, DeRozan has missed only 17 of a possible 246 games.

Even after a physically grueling, overtime battle against the Knicks to close the regular season, DeRozan couldn’t come up with a single complaint about his minutes count. If he had his way, he’d play more.

“I love it. I want to play,” DeRozan said. “I tell Billy all the time, ‘Don’t take me out. I want to play.’ I want to be out there with the guys. I want to feel that challenge. Especially when you realize I’m not going to play for another 15 years, another 10 years. So while I’m here, I’m going to give it everything I’ve got. I don’t want to shortchange anybody: myself, my teammates, people who come to see me.

“I just want to be out there and play as much as I can. And I’m going to take care of myself as best as I can so I can do that.”

Self-care, DeRozan said, isn’t difficult.

“I always took care of myself to the fullest on the court and off the court,” DeRozan said. “I try to eat the best I can eat. I don’t do anything. I don’t go out. I don’t drink. … I try to take care of myself so I can be out there for those guys. And at the end of the day, I just love playing. I don’t look at it like it’s an age thing. I just want to play. I just love playing basketball.”

Bulls coach Billy Donovan credited DeRozan’s availability and adaptability — his 225 3-pointers, for instance, were the second-most of his career — for helping Chicago withstand a rash of injuries.

The Bulls finished 39-43, good for ninth in the Eastern Conference. They’ll host the 10th-place Atlanta Hawks (36-46) in a Play-In Tournament game on Wednesday. If not for DeRozan, Donovan said, who knows how bad this Bulls season might have been.

DeRozan’s workload was so heavy because the Bulls lost Zach LaVine and Patrick Williams to season-ending foot injuries. They joined Lonzo Ball, who missed a second straight season while attempting a comeback from a career-threatening knee injury. Other Bulls contributors bounced in and out of the lineup.

But for almost 3,000 minutes across 79 nights, DeRozan was the Bulls’ stabilizing presence.

“That guy is one of the most special people I’ve ever been around, all the way around: player, person, teammate,” Donovan said. “The ability to communicate with him. Every day, who he is. I’ve never seen him have a bad day. I’ve never seen him in a bad mood. I’ve never seen him have an attitude. Certainly, he puts a lot into it. He does get frustrated like they all do. But he was a major part of keeping the group together.”

It wasn’t simply DeRozan’s dominance on the court or his fourth-quarter magic, although his 182 clutch points, second-most behind Stephen Curry, certainly helped. Thanks in large part to DeRozan’s penchant for late-game dramatics, the Bulls finished as the league’s best clutch team, outscoring opponents by a league-best 115 points over their league-high 210 clutch minutes, defined as games within a five-point margin inside the final five minutes and overtime.

But DeRozan drew as much praise as a tutor to teammates as he did for his shooting touch down the stretch of games. Donovan specifically cited DeRozan’s mentorship of Bulls second-year swingman Dalen Terry, whose development was apparent over the season’s second half.

“I appreciate the investment he’s made in Dalen. I think Dalen would tell you that ‘Some of the growth I’ve made has been because of the investment by DeMar.’ And that’s the thing I love about him is that he invests in people and he invests in others.”

Vučević, a two-time All-Star who ranked in the top 10 in minutes in two of the previous three seasons while in his 30s, said DeRozan’s personality makes him appealing throughout the locker room.

“The way he cares for all the teammates. The belief he has in all of us,” Vučević said. “You all see when he takes over in the fourth, when he makes the big shots, when he makes the big plays, that’s something everybody sees. But for us, what’s most important is just the way he is around us off the court.

“Even on the court if somebody’s struggling or whatever, he always has belief in guys and always supports them. That’s very important, especially coming from your best player and your leader. It goes a long way, especially for the younger guys. That’s something that we appreciate the most about him. The way he carries himself off the court.

“A very simple guy, easygoing. He doesn’t ask for anything special because he’s the best player or because he has 15 years in the NBA. He’s like everybody else. I think guys respect that the most about him.”

DeRozan doesn’t consider himself different even though everyone knows he is.

“A Hall of Famer,” White said.

Someday perhaps. But for now, DeRozan just wants to be one of the guys, doing what he loves doing — hooping and having fun against Father Time.

Score another one for DeRozan.

“It means a lot,” DeRozan said. “It just shows you that it’s possible, that it happens. That nothing can slow you down as long as you lock in and take care of yourself.”

(Photo of DeMar DeRozan and Bojan Bogdanović: Elsa / Getty Images)

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