The Great North Hype!
I have a love/hate relationship with the Toronto Raptors.
Every season, they kind of get off to a hot start and Raptors fans lose their shit and start that premature championship talk that eventually leads to heartbreaking disappointment in April/May. So, saying that this year's the North's year makes me want to burst the Raptors fan's bubble. Real quick.
Given that they're the only Canadian team in the NBA, you'd think I'd be compelled to root for them and all, but, nooope!
Been there, done that.
Now I don't even get my hopes up anymore. Why?
A history of mediocre team management and failed opportunities.
Let's take a brief look at the Raptors' franchise and what led to my love/hate affair with this team.
Back in 1995, when the Toronto Raptors were one of two expansion teams into Canada, hopes were low. Everyone knew it would take time for the franchise to prosper given that most of the players were either unknown or new to the NBA. Damon Stoudemire killed it during the 95-96 season, which earned him the 1996 Rookie of the year award despite the Raptors' 21-61 record. That's when I started to root for the Raptors.
The highlight of the 95-96 season was when the Raptors beat the 72-10 Chicago Bulls (with Jordan being in his prime and all … no big deal).
Three years later, things started looking up when the Raptors acquired Vince Carter by trading their draft pick, Antawn Jamison, to Golden State. Carter's impact on the league was damn near instant. The Raptors now had a high-flying, slam-dunking shooting guard/small forward combo around which they would try to build a decent team. Add Carter's cousin, Tracy McGrady, to the mix and you had a recipe for a Easter Conference Championship contender.
After a couple failed playoff runs, McGrady's departure and Carter's many injuries, the Raptors weren't able to do better than a 47-35 record (2000-01) while Vince Carter was on the team from (1998-2004).
With Chris Bosh joining the Raptors squad from 2003 through 2009, they were able to match their 47-35 Win-Loss record, but due to a lot of bad GM moves and wasted draft picks, the Raptors suffered through a lot of bad seasons, which confused and angered their fan base who wanted to surpass the records they set in previous seasons.
DESTROY AND REBUILD
I know that drafting players is a gamble.
It's a choice that has to be made with little certainty and where the variables of the situation (injuries, college to NBA transition, mental state) dictate the outcome, which can make the entire draft pick process plague an organization for years. I bet the Detroit Pistons still regret drafting Darko Milicic over Carmelo Anthony in 2003. I mean the Pistons did win the title in 2004, but the franchise has not been able to get back to playoff status since. Milicic was supposed to be their future … Oh, well.
The uncertainty of a draft pick still doesn't explain the general management mistakes the Toronto Raptors made in past years.
The Raptors had the much needed eight pick in the 2004 NBA Draft and they allowed Rob Babcock, their GM at the time, to pick Rafael Araujo over Andre Iguodala, Sebastian Telfair, Al Jefferson, Josh Smith, Jameer Nelson, J.R. Smith, Tony Allen, Kevin Martin and Anderson Varejao. Any of those picks would have been better than Araujo who was a bitter disappointment.
All because of Babcock. Every time he was interviewed he had this frightened look on his face like he had no business being there. Fucking Rob Babcock.
I mean the Raps even had the first pick in the 2006 NBA Draft and they picked Andrea Bargnani over Lamarcus Aldridge, Brandon Roy, Rudy Gay, Rajon Rondo, Kyle Lowry and Paul Millsap.
Nevertheless, the Raptors managed to redeem themselves when they drafted Demar Derozan in 2009. The USC shooting guard was expected to play a supporting role in the franchise by providing additional scoring to Chris Bosh's production.
When Chris Bosh left to joing Dwyane Wade and Lebron James in Miami, all eyes turned to Derozan as the new face of the franchise.
In 2011, the Raptors were in a "Rebuild Mode" as they tried to find the best players to complement Derozan's explosive potential.
In 2012, when the Raptors acquired Kyle Lowry, it was the beginning of something great. Lowry and Derozan were able to rack up the wins over the last three years and even achieving a 56-26 Win-Loss record in 2015 (a franchise best).
FROM LAST YEAR UNTIL NOW …
Last year, Raptors fans thought their team could go all the way.
I didn't think there was any way in hell that the Raps could beat the Cleveland Cavs or the Golden State Warriors when the time came. But the problem with the Raptors is that, when everything goes their way and they play right, they can beat the best teams in the league. However, the Raptors often fall victim to their own carelessness and lack of poise, which result in losses against top-tier teams (usually by 5-point or less).
I've watched the Raptors gain a crazy 20-point lead early in a game only to watch them take it a little too easy and allow the opposing team to get back in the game and steal it from them. It's those little things that makes me hate them at times. The Raptors are too good on paper to do dumb shit like that in games.
The Raps have two all-star, gold-medal winning players (they're the team's co-captains) in Lowry and Derozan and a supporting cast that's straight fire when they're on point (I'm looking at you Terrence Ross, Patrick Patterson and Jonas Valanciunas).
This season, the Raps look good. They're playing well against top-tier teams and they have a 18-7 Win-Loss record granting them the #2 spot in the Eastern Conference and the #6 spot in the league overall (the West is strong, boi). Furthermore, about two or three of those losses could have been wins, but terrible calls dictated the end of those games and that was all she wrote.
For instance, take the last game against the Sacramento Kings when Terrence Ross hit a three-point buzzer-beater to tie the game and send it to overtime. Sadly, the referees decided that, since the clock didn't start as the ball was inbounded, the shot didn't count and the game was over. A call I still disagree with to this day.
Questionable calls and Raptors failures aside, the big question is: can the Raptors win the title this year?
I doubt it.
The Raptors have a good team, but that's not enough. They have to beat the Cavs who have the best player in the world right now (Lebron James, of course) along with Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving who cannot be ignored.
The Raptors also have to beat whoever makes it out in the Western Conference whether it's the San Antonio Spurs, the Los Angeles Clippers, the Houston Rockets or the Golden State Warriors (the obvious favorite this year with Curry, Thompson and Durant playing well).
In order for the Raptors to win the title, a lot of things need to go right. They not only have to play damn near perfect basketball, they also have to get a little lucky. I'm talking about calls going their way, impact players getting injured and all of the Toronto players staying healthy.
Going out on a limb and saying that this year's Toronto's year is not only wrong, but it's misguided. There are no guarantees in life and we all know that the playoffs is a different season. So before Raptors fans get too hyped up, let's wait for the Raps to make it to the playoffs and then we'll see how far their playoff experience carries them.
It's early still, so let's calm down.
Talk to me about the Raps in March and then, depending on how they're doing, we can talk about a title run.
written by Joe Renegade