The team that was originally en route to draft hometown hero Andrew Wiggins first overall may now have to settle for another at pick number twenty; here’s hoping they don’t ruin it by picking another European like Jusuf Nurkic or Clint Capela who just turns into a pasta poster boy (I’m looking at you, Bargnani).
But how did the Raps drop to the twentieth spot? Oh yeah, after trading Rudy Gay to Sacramento for Vasquez and Patterson along with others on December 8, the Dinos went 42-22. They were 6-12 prior to that big move at the start of the year. This season, the team set a franchise record for most wins, and returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
Was it Drake, their Global Ambassador? Sorry, Drizzy, but you had nothing to do with it. I’d give partial credit to Dwayne Casey, who was robbed of a coach of the year nomination. The rest? Kyle Lowry stepped into the lead role, DeRozan close behind, with Terrence Ross developing, as well; Valanciunas took his spot at the post, and Vasquez threw assists like Gretzky.
Though Brooklyn wanted them, and eventually defeated them, you have to admit — the Raps put up a pretty strong fight. They’re still top of the standings for the shots made from the line average in the playoffs. The nerves didn’t get to them, but maybe the lack of collective experience did. They were this close to — how did Masai Ujiri put it — “fooling” Brooklyn”.
Let’s say Kyle Lowry had made that shot over Paul Pierce with only a few seconds remaining in game seven. Let’s say Brooklyn wasn’t rolled over by the Heat in the Eastern Conference semis in five games. What if had been Toronto instead?
Considering the Raptors were 0-4 against the Heat this season (95-104, 83-90, 97-102, and 83-93) probably…not that great. LeBron James often led the way with Dwayne Wade close behind in point totals; the Heat altogether scored the majority of their points in the paint those four games due to the lack of Toronto defense. Since King James joined Miami, they have defeated the Raps in 14 straight contests. Chris Bosh can sleep soundly tonight.
Miami waited a week to play Brooklyn after sweeping Charlotte in four. They were well rested. Brooklyn was tired and bruised; as the Raptors would have been with Lowry’s knee, Johnson’s other knee, and Landry Fields’ back.
Worthy of noting however, was that Toronto was only one seed behind Miami in the Eastern Conference at the end of the regular season. The two teams had the exact same road record. The year before, Miami finished first, with a 66-16 record, while the Raptors looked outward into the playoffs, at 34-48. Strides have been made within the 416.
“We The North” will continue to thrive, with a few adjustments. Toronto could still could find some size on the sides and a strong blocker. GM Ujiri however has mentioned that he’s pleased with the direction of the team and doesn’t want a quick fix — he wants his squad to develop.
Get Kyle Lowry signed — give him almost whatever he wants, even if it’s Drake himself. Apparently, Lowry is asking for up to $12-million over four years. This is only a little bit more expensive than what Vince Carter is looking for — and as nice as it would be for Vince Carter to retire in T-Dot, it really wouldn’t fit all that much for the team, other than maybe an increase in ticket sales (and the team’s average age, with VC at 37). Don’t focus on Carter (remember how pissed you were when he left?!), but focus on inking at least one of Vasquez or Petterson, or both if you can, Ujiri. With leadership under Lowry, and the continued development of DeRozan, Valanciunas, and Ross, the Raptors could be “fooling” Miami in the next few years.
At the end of the 2012 season, Toronto-born and then Raptor Jamaal Magloire promised the Raptors would make the playoffs the next season. Well, they didn’t. He was off by one year.