Back in 1998, the Toronto Raptors traded Antawn Jamison for Vince Carter. Carter was originally drafted by the Golden State Warriors with the fifth overall pick. It was a trade that revolutionised the Raptors after an unsuccessful period since their founding in 1995.
Carter helped push the Raptors forward and was part of one of the most exciting duo’s at the time, alongside his cousin Tracy McGrady. Carter remains one of the league’s best players. He is an eight-time NBA All-star and one of only six players to put down 24,000 points, 2,500 assists, 6,000 rebounds, 1,000 steals and 1,000 three-point shots. He helped Toronto make the play-offs in 2000, 2001 and 2002 until an unfortunate number of hamstring and knee injuries thereafter.
Upon the end of the Raptors-Carter era, an aspiring Chris Bosh made his debut in 2003.
“I wanted to be like Vince, I saw what he had and when he got traded I felt it was on me to continue that”, reflected 11-time NBA All-star Bosh in 2017, in an interview with LeBron James and Drake.
Bosh led the Raptors to their first play-off appearance in five years during the 2006-07 season. His legacy was evident in the way fans reacted in 2010 after his trade to the Miami heat. He was labelled the franchise villain. Despite wanting to take the franchise all the way to the finals as a young boy, this was never achieved.
“My rookie was DeMar DeRozan. He was my rookie. I tried to do the same thing as Vince did for me”
Yet, Bosh left the franchise with a seed planted.
“My rookie was DeMar DeRozan. He was my rookie. I tried to do the same thing as Vince did for me. Take him under my wing”, Bosh said in ‘A conversation about Toronto’.
DeRozan is now the Raptors’ all-time leading scorer.
With DeRozan at the helm during the 2015-16 season, the Raptors came the closest to the finals they had ever been. They won a record-breaking 59 games before their loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. A destructive Kyrie Irving and LeBron James coming between the franchise and another record.
Two of Toronto’s best, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan almost had the Cavs on numerous occasions. Notably DeRozan’s 32 points in game three and Lowry’s 35 points in game four. It was a tremendous season, and despite a resilient effort, the Cavs swept them under the carpet for another day, going on to win the Finals. The first major sports team from Cleveland to win a championship since 1964. The Raptors were again knocked out of the playoffs by the Cavaliers in both 2017 and 2018.
An uncertain future?
The franchise has come to a cross-roads. Uncertainty lies ahead after the trade of DeRozan to the San Antonio Spurs. The legacy-line that stemmed from Carter, through to Bosh and finally to DeRozan has been broken.
Kawhi Leonard, who the Raptors recieved in return, will now try to take the franchise in a new direction. Leonard had a remarkably distant time with the Spurs despite his glowing spark of potential. In fact, when healthy, Leonard is arguably the best two-way player in the game.
Up until recently, there were reports that this would be a year-long contract, before moving to Los Angeles. However, a tweet by NBA TV analyst Peter Yannopoulos reported that Leonard had purchased, not rented, a house in Toronto. Theoretically solidifying his future with the Raptors.
— Peter Yannopoulos (@PeteYannopoulos) September 9, 2018
Herein lies a great opportunity for the Raptors, who had their best ever regular season last year. Leonard will be joining a team who have seen previous head coach Dwane Casey replaced by Nick Nurse, a man with a terrific, inspirational story.
Nick Nurse is a two-time BBL Coach of the Year and has helped many British teams to win numerous trophies, including a trophy for the Manchester Giants in 1999 and the National Cup for the Brighton Bears in 2003 to name but a few. He also acted as assistant coach for the GB Senior Men’s team in the London 2012 Olympics – a year that many British basketball fans will remember to be one that created catastrophic financial turmoil within the British game.
After five years as assistant coach with Toronto, he has stepped up to become head coach, escaping the uncertain, underfunded realm of British basketball. It is a remarkable journey for the Iowa native, and he will undoubtedly know how to push struggling franchises forward.
“It could have gone on forever, [management] had to drag us out of there in the end because they had to go do something else. But it was great”
A budding relationship has also been growing between Nurse and Leonard, two men of great potential. Quashing any worries for Raptors fans. Nurse, in his first sit-down meeting with Leonard, expressed how it “could have gone on forever”, that he “lit up like a Christmas tree” in regards to game strategies and how they were going to play him.
For a man notorious for not speaking all too much, Leonard showed some interesting signs and hopes for the future of the franchise. Leonard has the potential to become a superstar, and the Raptors may be able to act as a springboard for his transformation into stardom.
However, Kyle Lowry reportedly remains sceptical about Leonard. This will need to be resolved if the Raptors are to be successful this season. With Lowry still refusing to talk about DeRozan’s trade it remains to be seen whether he will be able to move on
Lowry and DeRozan were a great duo that took the Raptors to great heights. Now that the pair have been separated, combined with Lowry’s age, it begs the question as to whether this will be Lowry’s final year in Toronto before his free-agency next offseason.
A future in defense?
The future for Toronto may lie in defence. Some may argue that it is a lost art in the NBA, due to the machine-gun shooting of the Houston Rockets and particularly the Warriors who have seen almost unstoppable success. With Leonard, Danny Green and OG Anunoby in the frontcourt, the Raptors line-up may surprise those teams who commit to winning games by outscoring their opponents.
Their size says it all. Leonard, Green and Anunoby weigh an average of 220 lbs and all three players have a 7ft (plus) wingspan. This goes without even mentioning the size of Leonard’s hands, something that graced the news recently.
The Raptors have had a remarkable rise into the NBA, despite an uneasy start. With a progressive coach with a knowledge for the game the world over, a superb defensive line-up and a potential superstar in a healthy Kawhi Leonard, who knows what heights Toronto could reach this season.