The Toronto Raptors are one of the younger franchises in the NBA, but they have had some success, namely drafting Vince Carter in the 1998 Draft. Of their fourteen seasons, they have had five winning seasons, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but they are just two shy of matching the Clippers’ number of winning seasons, who have been around for thirty nine seasons.
The Raptors were a unique addition to the NBA: they, along with the Vancouver Grizzlies, were the first Canadian teams and Toronto was the first to be buoyed by a bunch of nerds. Allow me to explain that last part. Many people wonder about the origin of the Raptors’ team nickname, but very few know the true story. As most new franchises decide to enter the league, they usually hold a naming contest to help generate excitement for the new team and ease pressure on the marketing executives to pick a good team name. Toronto was no exception, receiving over 2,000 different entries. A shortlist of the ten “best” ideas were released to the public: Beavers, Bobcats, Dragons, Grizzlies, Hogs, Raptors, Scorpions, T-Rex, Tarantulas, and Terriers. If only our exclusive “Inside the Name” series had been released many years ago to aid their decision, they would have eliminated lame names like the Beavers, Hogs (apparently, one of Toronto’s nicknames is “Hogtown”), and Terriers, but even without our groundbreaking series, they seemed to be heading in the right direction with the slew of terrifying nicknames at their disposal.
Alas, the “Raptors” moniker was chosen for the popularity of the Jurassic Park movie, which was released in 1993, which nerds embraced with open arms. In the seven months that followed the team name announcement in 1994, the Raptors were seventh in merchandise sales, despite the fact that they had not even played a single game. My suggestion to future NBA franchises: while this was a success story (largely because “the Raptors” is such a badass team nickname), don’t listen to nerds, or else we’ll end up with terrible, terrible names, like the Vancouver Vampires or the Honolulu Harry Potters.
In the 1995 Draft, the Raptors selected Damon Stoudamire, who went on to win Rookie of the Year during the 1995-96 season, but had a typical expansion team finish, going 21-61. In 1996, they drafted Marcus Camby, but the team’s record only improved marginally. In 1997, they drafted future All-Star Tracy McGrady, and General Manager Isaiah Thomas resigned later in the season after a failed attempt to gain ownership of the team, leading Stoudamire to ask for a trade. The Raptors obliged, sending Stoudamire to the Portland Trailblazers, who at the time were perennial playoff contenders, with two other players in exchange for three players, two first-round draft picks, a second-round draft pick, and “Paints in the Point”‘s favorite element of any trade: cash. When one of the three players traded to the Raptors, Kenny Anderson, refused to report to Toronto.
Toronto traded Anderson to Boston with two other players, in exchange for four players, including a young Chauncey Billups and 1991 Slam Dunk Contest champion Dee Brown. Fun Fact: Kenny Anderson is now the head coach of The Hombres, a Slamball team. Slamball, of course, being the league that combines basketball and trampolines, which televised its games on Cartoon Network before it was unexpectedly yanked from the schedule.
The Raptors’ inexperience (they were the youngest team in the NBA for some time) led to another disappointing season. In 1998, the Raptors selected Antawn Jamison, but traded it to Golden State for Vince Carter, and the franchise was never the same again. Carter went on to win Rookie of the Year in the 1998-99 season, as the Raptors improved their winning percentage to four games under .500.
The 1999-2000 season had many highlights for the Raptors: the team moving out of the SkyDome (now the Rogers Centre) and into the Air Canada Centre, Carter winning the Slam Dunk Contest, and their first playoff appearance (but lost to the Knicks in the first round). Unfortunately, after the 2000 season, McGrady (considered by The Custodian as a contender to be “the next Jordan”), decided to play closer to his family in Florida, and he was involved in a sign-and-trade deal, sent to the Magic in exchange for a first-round draft pick. Vince Carter traveled to the 2000 Olympics, only to be interrupted by Kanye West:
The Raptors made the playoffs easily in the 2000-01 season, defeating New York in the first round and taking Philadelphia (who at the time had Allen Iverson and Dikembe Mutombo) to seven games, losing after Carter barely missed a three-point shot.
Before the 2001-02 season, the Raptors made long-term agreements with players, in addition to signing veteran Hakeem Olajuwon, with the hopes of keeping Carter around for another season. The Raptors (barely) reached the playoffs for the third consecutive year, despite Carter having an injury during the second half of the season, but lost in the first round. Carter continued to have injury problems over the next few seasons and demanded a trade prior to the 2004-05 season. The Raptors traded Carter to the New Jersey Nets for three players (including Alonzo Mourning) and two future first-round picks. Chris Bosh, drafted in the 2003, improved after Carter’s departure, but Toronto finished the season with a losing record.
The 2005-06 season was a rebuilding year, as the Raptors attempted to recover from the loss of Carter. They selected Andrea Bargnani with the first selection of the 2006 Draft, and they reached the playoffs the following season, winning the Atlantic Division. Chris Bosh was selected as a starter for the All-Star Game. They ended up losing to the Nets in the first round, in six games.
The Raptors managed to return to the playoffs during the 2007-08 season, despite injuries to many of their key players throughout the season. Before last season, Toronto traded three players to Indiana for Jermaine O’Neal, but the Raptors were still too inconsistent to contend, and O’Neal was traded midseason, along with Jamario Moon to the Miami Heat for Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks.
2008-2009 Record: 33-49, 4th place in Atlantic Division, 13th place in Eastern Conference
Coach: Jay Triano
- Jose Calderon, PG
- Marco Belinelli, SG
- Hedo Turkoglu, SF
- Chris Bosh, PF
- Andrea Bargnani, C
- Hedo Turkoglu: The biggest gain by Toronto this offseason is the free agent signing of Hedo Turkoglu. While he’s destined to fit in nicely with Bosh, Bargnani, and the Raptors’ style of play, will his points per game remain in the upper teens? The Custodian weighs in on this very subject in the “Turkoglu Turnover,” our post reacting to Hedo signing with the Raptors.
- DeMar DeRozan: Toronto’s first-round draft pick this year, DeRozan comes straight outta Compton (after a brief stop a few miles up the road at USC) and into the tundra of Toronto. I’ve seen DeRozan play, and I really like his athleticism and predict (with some bias) that he will develop quite nicely within the Raptors’ system.
- Reggie Evans: Traded one-for-one for Jason Kapono, will Evans continue his rebounding ways up north?
- Marco Belinelli, Antoine Wright, Jarrett Jack, Rasho Nesterovic, Amir Johnson, Sonny Weems: All of these players were brought in to entice Chris Bosh into staying with Toronto after he becomes eligible for free agency this season. Will these players harm more than help? Will Chris Bosh recognize the aggressive moves the management has made and choose to stick around beyond the end of this season?
- Shawn Marion, Kris Humphries, Nathan Jawai: In addition to cash, these were the casualties of the deal that brought Devean George (who was then subsequently dealt for Macro Belinelli) and Antoine Wright to Toronto. Will the Raptors miss Marion, or will Belinelli and Wright fill the 13 points per game hole left by Shawn’s departure?
- Jason Kapono: Tied for the most-accurate three-point shooter in NBA history, will Toronto miss this outside threat, or will his trade counterpart, Reggie Evans, help the Raptors more than Kapono did?
- Anthony Parker: A versatile player and decent three-point shooter over the past few years, Parker was erratic last year, seeing a drop in performance, so the Raptors allowed him to enter free agency, where he was snapped up by Cleveland. Will the Raptors regret this decision?
- Roki Ukic, Carlos Delfino: Ukic wasn’t that much of a threat this past season and Delfino’s last season was spent in Russia. I don’t see these two losses being particularly harmful to Toronto.
Should the aggressive acquisitions made by Toronto this offseason fail to work out for some reason, or if injuries plague the team this year, Toronto stands to lose much, as this is not the year for unlucky circumstances to occur. Keeping Chris Bosh is the only way that Toronto can continue to improve over the next few years, so it is critical that these deals work out (for more about Chris Bosh, read The Custodian’s article “Take On Me”). However, I predict that this will not occur, and the Raptors will significantly improve, allowing them to make the playoffs this year.
“I ain’t going to Toronto. No ifs, ands or buts. However you want to put it, that’s out. They can breach it. They can do whatever they want to do. I just ain’t going. Maybe it’s a three-way, but I ain’t going to Toronto.”
—Kenny Anderson, on rumors that he may be traded to Toronto.
[When he was, in fact, traded to Toronto,
Anderson refused to report and was
subsequently traded to Boston.]
“It’s going to be real tight for me to consider Toronto. There’s just a lot of stuff that’s not right.”
—Vince Carter, on whether or not he would consider Toronto
after becoming a free agent after the 1999-2000 season.
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