I recently had a discussion with another Raptor fan on Twitter who brought up a number of arguments I’ve heard far too many times before. And they all can be boiled down to the belief that the Raptors have no chance of ever winning a title, so should basically aim low and forget about striving for excellence.
And it breaks my heart every time I encounter this attitude.
Perhaps it’s the fact that only one NBA team over the last 20 years have had fewer playoff appearances than the Raptors1: The Golden State Warriors, who are currently three wins away from winning an NBA title. Perhaps it’s because in those seven playoff appearances, the team has gotten beyond the first round just once. Perhaps it’s the fact they have more sub-.500 seasons than plus-.500 seasons and have never been able to hit the 50 win mark, a fact that only one other NBA franchise can lay claim to over the last 20 years. The Washington Wizards. [aside]1. New Orleans actually has appeared in fewer playoff games, but have only been in existence for 13 years. Washington have also appeared in just 7 playoffs in the last 20 years, but have made it past the second round three of those times.[/aside]
Yes, the same Wizards who just swept the Raptors in the playoffs.
So maybe it’s somewhat understandable some Raptor fans have a rather pessimistic view of the future of the team. Add the fact that none of Toronto’s major sports franchise have had much success over the last two decades and you’re got a breeding ground for the hopeless and cynical.
I don’t share this attitude. Perhaps it’s the fact that I fondly remember walking down Yonge Street with thousands of other Blue Jay fans the night they won the first of their back-to-back World Series. It could be due to the fact that I was a hard-core Detroit Pistons fan when they won their first two NBA titles. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve also been a Spurs fan before and during one of the longest and most successful eras for a franchise in professional sports. I simply don’t share that despondent view, despite also being a Raptor fan. I know what it’s like to cheer a team that has won it all.
“NOT EVERY TEAM CAN WIN A TITLE”
In the last 30 years in the NBA, only eight franchises have won a title. In the last 60 years, that number is just sixteen. Considering there are currently 30 teams in the NBA, that means nearly half have never won a title. Those seem to be fairly overwhelming statistics. To many fans, it seems that it’s just a handful of franchises that even have a chance at building a championship team. If you’re not one of those select few, then you’re just out of luck.
And while it’s true that only eight franchises have won titles during the Raptor’s 20 year existence, seventeen different franchises have made it to the Finals during that time. And shockingly, in the last 20 years, twenty four different NBA franchises have made it to the Conference Finals. The only teams that haven’t are the Washington Wizards, Charlotte Bobcats, New Orleans Pelicans, Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Clippers and Toronto Raptors.
Let me just restate that. In the last 20 years, only six NBA franchises have NOT made it to the NBA Conference Finals.
Now, admittedly, a few of those teams, like the recent Atlanta Hawks, had no real shot at winning an NBA title, but it should make one realize that building a real contender isn’t just for franchises like the Lakers or Spurs.
“STARS ALWAYS LEAVE THE RAPTORS”
For some pessimistic fans, the previous statistic only strengthens their belief that Toronto will never win a title. And they’ll point to the fact that stars simply don’t want to stay in Toronto.
Damon Stoudamire left. So did Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter and Chris Bosh.
The problem with this often held argument is that none of these players left because the Raptors play in Toronto. All left for very good reasons that had nothing to do with where the franchise is situated.
Stoudamire left after his idol and mentor, Isiah Thomas, was forced out of ownership and off the team. After Isiah left, Stoudamire felt betrayed and wanted nothing to do with the current ownership, so demanded a trade.
Tracy McGrady left because of what he felt was lack of respect from coach Butch Carter, who McGrady felt stifled his development, and to escape the VERY long shadow of his cousin Vince Carter, who looked like the future face of the league.
Carter sulked his way out of town after the team went from a near contender to a perennial lottery team, and year after year of mismanagement. Keep in mind that Rob Babcock was the GM of the Raptors at the time Vince asked for a trade. Quite possibly the worst GM the league has seen. And this was AFTER Carter re-signed once, already.
Chris Bosh gave the Raptors seven years to build a contender, with the team making the playoffs only twice in those seven years, and missing the playoffs his last two. And the team’s biggest acquisition during that time was Hedo Turkgolu and the biggest draft pick was Andrea Bargnani.
While Bosh and Carter certainly left in ways that hurt the fans, it’s hard to blame them for wanting out. They left poorly managed teams that missed the playoffs more than they made it and seemed to be getting worse. Players don’t need a team to be a contender to stay, but they need to see positive progress and that was missing for the teams Bosh and Carter were on.
McGrady and Stoudamire’s cases were unique and had little to nothing to do with where the franchise was located.
“WE NEED TO HOLD ONTO THE GOOD PLAYERS WE HAVE”
Related to the previous argument, this is brought up when someone suggests trading away a talented Raptor player. The feeling seems to be that the Raptors should be thankful for any good players the Raptors have and that means not trading them away.
This is the case against trading Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. It was also the case against trading Andrea Bargnani before public sentiment went against him as much as it did.
The problem is that if you really want to build a contender, you can’t be worried about keeping any decent player you can get your hands on. You need to be choosy about which players to keep and which to trade away.
Golden State trading away the team’s leading scorer, in Monta Ellis, in 2012 was an important step to build the contender that is now in the NBA Finals. It’s not about keeping the best players you can. It’s about making sure the players you have are the right ones.
“I JUST WANT TO SEE THE RAPTORS WIN A PLAYOFF SERIES OR TWO”
This is the ultimate argument for building a competitive, but not a contending, team. And it’s also the ultimate example of defeatism. Aim low and you won’t be disappointed.
The Atlanta Hawks are often brought up as the perfect example of what the Raptors should aim for. The problem is that the Hawks should be considered a bit of a failure. While they did win 60 games and make it to the Conference Finals, that win total was inflated due to playing in one of the worst conferences in the history of the league. And while the did make it to the Conference Finals, they struggled against every team they faced and showed in the Conference Finals that they simply were nothing close to a contender. If they were in the West they would have been bounced in the first round, no matter who they faced.
Like the Raptors’ Atlantic Division titles, the Hawks regular season success is meaningless if it doesn’t translate into playoff success. And the problem with aiming to be the Atlanta Hawks is that it means that falling short means a quick first round exit like the one we just saw.
No one achieved anything worthwhile by aiming low.