We’re Canada’s basketball team, not a basketball team for Canadians.
The Toronto Raptors capped off arguably their most successful season in franchise history four months ago. An surprisingly upstart team led by breakout campaigns from Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan set a franchise-high in wins, pushing the team into the post-season for the first time in six years. The squad came within a Lowry floater away from winning their second-ever playoff series, nearly upsetting a well-stocked Brooklyn Nets team in the process. By all accounts, it was a very good year.
This offseason, general manager Masai Ujiri successfully retained all of his key free-agents, including highly sought-after point guard Kyle Lowry. Although Lowry ultimately ended up with a deal nearing full market value, there’s something to be said for a star opting to remain in Toronto long-term. As much as anything else — perpetual losers, where Vince Carter started his career — star players leaving in droves is a cursed insignia stitched into the team’s fabric. In that regard, Lowry’s return is a loose strand, symbolizing the hopeful unraveling of the Raptors’ patchy history.
And yet, with so much hard-earned momentum on its side, many fans (captained by members of the media) remain ardent in another chase altogether, shamelessly angling for fantastical moves to acquire Andrew Wiggins. Blow up the squad to land Wiggins. Trade picks for Anthony Bennett, or Tyler Ennis, or Andrew Nicholson, or Corey Joseph? Why not take a flyer on Melvin Ejim or Myck fucking Kabongo? When will Maple Jordan come home like LeBron James?
Put aside for a second that Wiggins is largely unattainable. Who cares about the harsh realities of the CBA when the flimsy narrative of Wiggins coming home is so easy to parlay? Who cares if the franchise is building towards a perpetual contender reliant on continuity and a team-first identity? Why doesn’t Masai deal three-fifths of the starting lineup for Wiggins? Hey, not sure if you knew, but Wiggins is Canadian, eh?
I get the fascination with Wiggins, I really do. If your argument is that this current team has a limited ceiling, and that it lacks a pivotal transcendent talent, it makes some sense to trade for Wiggins. There isn’t a clear-cut future All-NBA caliber player on the team, and while youngsters like DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas could conceivably reach that level in due time, Wiggins boasts A-grade prospect cache and boundless athleticism. The physical foundation for a future star is there.
And yes, it would be exciting to have a home-grown star leading Canada’s only team. Unlike previous episodes with Chris Bosh and Carter, Wiggins’ ties to Canada should grant the Raptors a leg up in negotiations for once. If Lowry sticking around is a loose thread in checkered fabric, Wiggins developing into a full-fledged superstar in Toronto would be a red-and-white satin spreadsheet to cover up the hideous identity of old.
But where I get off the boat is when fans go overboard with the second idea. It’s one thing to hope for a rebuild, but Wiggins’ talent alone doesn’t account for the fervor of trade speculation. There’s almost no talk from fans in the acquisition of Jabari Parker or Joel Embiid — two players of roughly equivalent draft standing. Fans want Wiggins because he’s Canadian first and foremost. His talent comes second.
That’s my beef with the fetish for Wiggins — the Raptors are Canada’s basketball team, not a basketball team for Canadians. The franchise exists to eventually win championships, not to act as a safe refuge for Canadian basketball players. It’s not up to the Raptors to be the face of Canadian basketball or inspire Canadian youngsters to try their hands at the sport. That’s what Canada Basketball is for. The Raptors are an NBA team and the goal of NBA teams is to win NBA games.
If the thinking behind a play for Wiggins — or whichever Canadian player — is that he’s the best option to help the Raptors win, make the move. I don’t care if he’s Canadian, American, Spanish, Brazilian, Argentinian, Chinese, Haitian, Jamaican or a dude from the Monstars; if he can help the Raptors win, I’m all for it. Citizenship be damned.