Happy Anniversary to the Raptors and Rudy Gay!

Happy Anniversary, Raptors Nation!

Yesterday (December 8), marked the one year anniversary of Rudy Gay’s forced exodus to the Sacramento Kings.  One year…85 games…and what has felt like a brand new franchise.

At the time of the trade Toronto was mired in a 6-12 record and was coming off a five game losing streak.  The final straw for Masai Ujiri appeared to be a 106-97 loss to the Phoenix Suns on December 6, 2013, a game that ironically saw Rudy Gay display one of his best efforts on the year.  He scored 17 points on 16 shots (more points than shots!), while also chipping in a team high 10 rebounds.

The loss to Phoenix also saw Landry Fields play 18 minutes, a number he reached only two more times after the Raptors’ shorthanded effort against the Los Angeles Lakers on the day of the trade.

Julyan Stone saw a similar disappearance from the line-up after the trade, seeing just 11 more games (for a season total of 21 games), and only broke five minutes of action during two more games.

The Raptors swapped Rudy Gay, Aaron Gray, and Quincy Acy in exchange for Greivis Vasquez, Chuck Hayes, John Salmons and Patrick Patterson.  What was expected by everyone (including Ujiri) to be the start of a complete team rebuild, somehow turned the Raptors’ fortunes around.

What started as a 6-12 start to last season, turned into a 42-22 record post trade, and a 16-5 record to start this season.  In the year since Gay’s departure, Toronto has won 68.2 percent of their games, a number that puts them squarely among the elite of the NBA.  In any of the past five years, a .682 winning percentage would put a team within the top 6 records league wide.

With the acquisition of Vasquez, Salmons, Hayes, and Patterson, the Raptors finally had a bench that could not only maintain leads that had been built by the starters, but fight the team back into games at times as well.

The additions of Lou Williams (who was acquired by trade this summer with the aforementioned Salmons) and James Johnson this past summer only magnified this advantage that Ujiri stumbled upon last December.  A line-up of Greivis Vasquez, Lou Williams, James Johnson, Tyler Hansbrough, and Patrick Patterson are currently the Raptors leading five man unit in regards to plus-minus at +35 on the season.

Ujiri took the pieces that were left behind by Bryan Colangelo, and re-imagined them.  It’s easy to look at the current roster and see Colangelo’s fingerprints all over it; after all, Colangelo brought the current starting line-up to Toronto before his departure.  But where Colangelo brought in the pieces, he wasn’t able to put them together towards a winning formula.

Under Masai, Terrence Ross was forced into the starting line-up and has been given a new level of trust within the organization; Kyle Lowry was challenged by Ujiri to take responsibility for his own career, and did just that; and DeMar DeRozan was given the keys to the franchise without having to share the court with another ball dominant wing.

The make-shift starting line-up developed almost immediate chemistry with one another, and the Raptors became one of the deeper teams in the NBA.

Ujiri turned a roster of misfits into one of the top teams in the NBA.  It started when he somehow managed to blackmail convince the New York Knicks to send him three draft picks in exchange for Andrea Bargnani, but all seemed to come together on December 8, 2013.

No one could have imagined what that day would mean to the franchise.  No one could have seen the difference it would bring about.

The conversation a year ago was almost entirely on what the Raptors could get in exchange for Kyle Lowry.  Now, the question is whether the Raptors could theoretically have enough to make a run at an appearance in the NBA Finals.

Thank you, Masai Ujiri!  But thank you doesn’t seem like enough after all you’ve done…

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