What gets lost in the millions that the NBA spends on marketing for the league pass is the contribution of Leo Rautins. He’s been an effective salesman for League Pass since day one. It’s his repetitiveness and monotonous delivery of the same message over the decades that is solely responsible for the purchase of many a League Pass, including mine. It’s not that what Rautins has to say is wrong, it’s that we’ve heard it all before. Many times.
So it is thanks to Rautins that for the past two years, I’ve been almost exclusively tuned in to the other team’s broadcast when watching Raptors basketball. The opposite view gives you a very good idea of how teams rate themselves, and what they think of the Raptors team, and management. Most broadcast teams are far more candid when evaluating the opposite team because the fear of any criticism coming back to bite them is greatly reduced since you’re not publicly badmouthing the hand that writes the cheque. A good example of that is the tones with which Jack Armstrong uses to describe Lou Williams’ play this year as compared to last, and the same with Greivis Vasquez. Today’s goat was last year’s hero.
There are some stark differences between how the Raptors are being evaluated this year as compared to last.
Sense of Fear
There’s a genuine sense of anxiety bordering on fear when a team is facing the Raptors. Even though the team has suffered some painful first-round exits the last two years despite having good regular seasons, there’s something about the season’s winning that is different. There’s a recognition that this Raptors team converted the pain of the last two springs into a redemption mission that isn’t taking any prisoners. I’m not suggesting the Raptors invoke the same sense of peril when a team faces the Cavaliers or the Warriors, but that teams know that they’re in for a very tough game. From a Raptor fans’ perspective, I think this is what qualifies as respect.
DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry are now seen as legitimate stars. There was a period where Lowry was considered the fat guy who butted with every head coach he played under. That reputation is long gone. It’s almost as if his time in Houston has been stricken off the record, and that this Lowry is a different player. He’s often being talked about as a legitimate Tier 2 player (BTW, tier 1 contains LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Steph Curry) and that is something that has never happened before.
The same is true for DeMar DeRozan, who is widely respected by every announcing team as a scorer to be reckoned with. Whereas many fans see DeRozan as a good but limited player due to some key flaws (e.g., three-point shooting), that hardly registers on broadcaster radars, who are very weary of the attacking threat he brings. I would say that Kyrie Irving is a comparable player in terms of fear posed when seen through opposition eyes. Based on the hype around DeRozan, I honestly see a 0% chance that a team won’t offer him the max, three-point shot or not.
Surprisingly, even when Terrence Ross was struggling, he was being highlighted as man to watch out for because of his three-point threat. His stock, even when it was the lowest in our eyes, was high elsewhere.
The Jurassic Park effect has taken hold. The Raptors crowd gets some serious respect from announcers when they visit the ACC. Many fans don’t like the in-game ops and often complain that they get in the way of watching the game. There’s truth to that but over a 2.5 hour period, the ACC is a louder arena than most in the NBA, and it is widely recognized so as well. The imagery that Jurassic Park gave us is something very unique in the league, and you simply don’t get that level of show from other fans. That’s been a differentiator for many, and certainly for opposing announcers.
Nobody seems to remember that it was Bryan Colangelo who gave us Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and Jonas Valanciunas, and that’s just fine for Masai Ujiri who, if he’s listening to the broadcasts, would hear how shrewd of a team-builder he is for accumulating the talent that he has on the roster. The Raptors are viewed as a responsible and sustainable model, and a prime example of how to construct a team if you’re not in one of New York, LA, Miami, or Chicago.
Biggest closet Raptors fan: Jeff Van Gundy. This guy will talk Raptors if given even the slightest opportunity.
Favorite announcing team: Brooklyn. Hear me out. They know their team is crap, and they genuinely enjoy watching the other team, even the Raptors despite the rivalry.
Least favorite announcing team: Boston – they refuse to credit any other team when they lose.
Worst analysis: Hawks – I swear, Dominique Wilkins has nothing to say and half the time it sounds like he’s gurgling salt water.
Best analysis: Charlotte – they have Dell Curry along with Stephanie Ready as color-commentators, and the latter especially provides a blend of analysis that is on point with minimal waste of words.
Overall, sometimes as Raptors fans we always feel the grass is greener on the other side, when in reality, everyone thinks the grass is mighty green right here in Toronto.