The Miami Heat brought more than just an eight game winning streak into Toronto on Friday night. They brought in a view of what the Raptors would someday like to be. Not necessarily a team with 3 superstars on route to another NBA title, but a team with glitz and glamour along with all their success.
The Raptors are an ever forgotten franchise south of the Canadian border. Even when the Raps have managed to put a playoff team on the floor they’ve often gone unnoticed. Their 2006/2007 team which won the Atlantic Division was a mere afterthought to most fans, it didn’t help that Chris Bosh disappeared during the playoffs and they were bounced in the first round either. But there was also the Vince Carter teams that had plenty of talent in the early 2000’s, then again if it wasn’t for his highlight reel dunks no one would have noticed that team either.
But these Raptors are ready to finally be noticed. And getting noticed is more than just putting together a good team. Getting noticed is the only way they’ll ever have a great team.
They’ve seen the Lakers with Jack Nicholson sitting courtside for a century, the Nets have Jay-Z up front and personal with the team, all the flashy teams have big name celebrities at their games. So Toronto decided not too long ago to join the fray. They added Toronto born rapper Drake as the team’s Global Ambassador. It’s a role that has little meaning, but he’s been seen courtside and in video promos at the games trying to give the franchise some much needed star power. Even though Drake talks more about the greatness of Toronto and not so much its basketball team, “it always feels like an album is finished when it sounds like Toronto,” a line from his first promo video where he discussed the importance of his roots.
Getting Drake to hype the team up may seem like a cheap publicity stunt, and it is, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important for the team. Toronto just doesn’t have the franchise luster of the Lakers or Bulls or even the Orlando Magic to get players to want to sign there in free agency. So why not bring in a rapper to make Toronto seem like a worthy place to go, like Miami, LA, or New York. Never mind the fact that it’s the 4th biggest city in North America and one of the most diverse on the planet. Hell when you’re giving a pitch to a young NBA star who’s considering signing you could just tell him that ‘diverse’ means that they’re a lot of beautiful women in the city! It’s true after all, have you seen the ladies in Toronto? But Drake has the star power that neither diversity nor city size offers.
It only makes sense that the Raptors look to get some stars off the court since Toronto is a tough sell for the ones on it. After all, Antonio Davis did once say that he wanted out of Canada because he didn’t want his kids learning the metric system. Or you can look to the abysmal trade of Vince Carter, the prize possession that the Raptors were to get in return was center Alonzo Mourning, who refused to play for the Raptors and didn’t suit up for a single game. The biggest signings that Toronto has landed in their history have all been quite underwhelming. There was an over the hill Hakeem Olajuwon, an underperforming Jermaine O’ Neal and a mediocre Linas Klezia. I’m not sure how the team would react to an actual signing of a big name player since the fans nearly through a party when they made a trade for Kyle Lowry. No offense to Lowry, but he isn’t exactly Chris Paul.
As hard as it is for Canada’s team to try and attract players the country has begun to develop some nice talent. For a long time the only players from the Great White North were Steve Nash and the occasional center like Joel Anthony, Jamal Magloire, Samuel Dalembert or even Bill Wennington. The last couple drafts have had tons of Canadian kids with lots of potential like Tristian Thompson, Anthony Bennett, Cory Joseph, and Kris Joseph. Not to mention Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins, from Thornhill, Ontario, who is considered by most to be the consensus number 1 pick this year. Most of these guys are from the Greater Toronto Area so they would be more than happy to play for the Raptors, but a franchise can’t sit around and hope someone born from their area is going to still be on the board when it’s their pick.
Besides, to create a great team you need more than just a few good draft picks, but until now the only stars that Toronto has ever made have been guys they’ve drafted, Carter and Chris Bosh in particular. Creating a great team solely through the draft is a thing of sports past. Especially in the NBA when there’s maybe 6 to 10 guys that have the ability to make a difference for a team. You have to be able to land free agents. Look at any of the past NBA champions and you’ll see big name free agent signings. The Miami Heat with the King and an ex-Raptor, the Lakers got Metta World Peace on the way to a title, and the Celtics added Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. Maybe Toronto could lure in a guy like Metta, but he’s not going to lead a team to a title unless Kobe is already there. As for the other guys, Allen, Garnett, LeBron, and Bosh, there’s no chance of any of them would come to Toronto, one of them already left anyway.
This is where the Raptors sit today. They’ve got some nice talent, DeMar Derozen is a good, not great, scorer, Rudy Gay is an above average talent, and Jonas Valanciunas could develop into a top 10 post player in the league. Now they have to figure out how to build from there. They need to get a playoff spot, which isn’t the tallest of tasks when you’re in the much maligned Eastern Conference, and hope they have the credibility to land a star in the next couple off-seasons. Unless they manage to land one in the draft, but don’t count on it, for every Tracy McGrady and Chris Bosh there’s been plenty of Rafael Araujos and Aleksandar Radojevićs (Yeah I don’t know who that is either).
When the Miami Heat walked off the court with a 90-83 victory on Friday night it was much more than just one team having better players than the other. It was one franchise having it. The superstars, the flashy owner, the glitzy town. It was a beautiful team walking off the ugly step sister’s court with a 9 game winning streak. The other team still searching for a glass slipper that fits.
By James Hadley