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Connecting the T-Dots: An Offseason Opener

Wait a minute, Kawhi passed his physical, right?!!

By the looks of it, especially after DeMar DeRozan added fuel to the fire, the tension in Raptorland won’t be going away anytime soon. It’s not easy saying goodbye to the franchise leader in points, minutes and games played, so the divide between fans is understandable. On the other hand, should it really be THIS hard? Hear me out, cause this could take a while.

I’ll dive into the Raps’ current state of affairs shortly, but in order to examine the present, the moment calls for digging up the past. All the way back to this franchise’s humble beginnings. In particular, those first three years before Vince arrived. A time when Isaiah Thomas played the role of Masai Ujiri, a place like Jurassic Park seemed like wishful thinking, and I’m pretty sure Drake hadn’t even auditioned for Degrassi: The Next Generation yet.

Furthermore, if you’ll allow me to indulge in my own personal touch, it was a time when most of my Saturday afternoons revolved around two radio programs: The Power Move Show on Ryerson’s 88.1, and The Mastermind Street Jam on Energy 108.

I know those references might be a little too old-school for some, but I can’t be the only one with ties to that memorable era. Oh, there was also no such thing as social media, people actually knew their friends’ phone numbers off by heart, and the Sky Dome (sorry, Rogers Centre) held the fort down until the ACC (sorry, Scotiabank Arena) was ready. I even remember watching my older brother’s high school squad get run off the court by Jamaal Magloire, Collin Charles and the rest of the Eastern Commerce Saints time and time again. I incessantly mocked my brother for getting dunked on immediately after each game, of course.

Why reminisce, you ask? … It all stems from trying to look at the big picture, and the reasons why the recent trade has received such a high amount of disapproval. In other words: the timeframe of when a person actually became a fan could help decipher which side of the trade they’re on. There’s obvious exceptions to the theory, but if you’ve been here from the jump, chances are you’re on board. If you signed up somewhere in the middle, chances are the DeRozan era tugs at your heart strings the most.

Now, I recently came across something that’s worthy of a detour. Don’t worry, the road will connect back rather quickly.

As I’m sure most of you know, Hardwood Paroxysm has a new home. If not, it’s a platform where each author constructs an article that’s built off of what the previous author wrote, and so on and so on. With the best part being, as Matt Moore put it: “It could be a response, it could be pulling out the theme, it could be talking about a player, it could be anything that reminded the author of something they want to write about.” It’s a refreshing idea considering what I get out of a column won’t necessarily be the same thing anyone else would, so the spinoffs from piece to piece will be intriguing to say the least.

Speaking of which, all of the above could open up numerous conversations, but two that come to mind need to be addressed.

1) Appreciating just how far the Raps have come with DeRozan and company at the helm.

2) Going down the rabbit hole that digs deeper into the frustration over DeMar and the team parting ways.

In an effort to stay impartial, the following represents both. But I can’t promise that the scales won’t tip at a certain point.

So, where does one even start after nearly a decade of service? Well, while it wasn’t exactly love at first sight, the relationship DeRozan had with this city, and the entire country of Canada while we’re at it, eventually grew to become a perfect storm.

It’s no secret that this fan base comes into each and every season with a chip on its shoulders. It is sort of by default, though, since we can’t really expect national coverage to cater to what American fans don’t have a connection with. Nevertheless, our fandom comes with a built-in, underdog state of mind. One that we publicly hate, but secretly thrive on.

It was therefore no coincidence that the “We The North” rallying cry took off like wildfire. Pinning one team against 29 others at a time when its fan base felt they finally earned league-wide acclaim, ended up being a re-brand for the ages.

Additionally, every passionate movement needs a face. Which at first, after a shift in attitude, was a title Kyle Lowry and his infectious brand of hard-nosed basketball undoubtedly held.

But just when we thought Lowry couldn’t be dethroned, watching DeMar throw his hat in the ring became an annual thing of beauty. So much so that could no longer be viewed as the polarizing figure he started out to be. And for the most fascinating part, the fact that his yearly improvements, not to mention the criticism he still received from the mainstream media, took place with that of the team’s simultaneously. I mean, after making it a priority to re-sign while actually embracing the Canadian experience, what’s left to say other than the link between player and fan became undeniable for a reason. Better yet: The Power Move Show 2.0.

Okay, consider this the end of the second quarter. Getting that out of my system calls for a breather.

Annnnd we’re back. Did I already mention that the scales might tip in the second half?

Sooner or later, a player’s ascendance is bound to create one of those good problems to have. And the timing of DeMar’s rise to stardom just so happened to match the team’s chance to upgrade its window of opportunity.

It also begs a few questions. Cause other than chemistry and possible health concerns, I don’t think anything that has to do with this trade on paper is in dispute. If I’m missing something, I’m all ears. Even if you’re trying to split hairs between the values Jakob Poeltl and Danny Green, outside shooting trumps waiting on Poeltl’s upside when it comes to that aforementioned opening.

Still, back to those questions. First up, what are we truly trying to get out of this team? Why do we invest so much time? When success is ongoing but ultimately falling short, shouldn’t we be encouraging management to use every available resource at their disposal?

Yes, the Raps are still firmly entrenched as underdogs in the Golden State scheme of things, but where’s the hunger? Where’s our own killer instinct?

Attachment to athletes, albeit DeRozan earned almost all of it, has to end somewhere. Otherwise we’re just toeing the line of accepting whatever the team gives us. If that actually is the case, how different would we be from fans who care more about Russell Westbrook’s wardrobe than what’s happening on the floor?

To each their own? Sure, that’s a mentality that still holds plenty of weight, but I know that’s not what I personally signed up for. The year might as well be 1995 and this city might as well be on the verge of its inaugural season. Hasn’t this franchise come too far for that? Haven’t WE come too far for that? The next generation, and this isn’t Degrassi, needs to understand that the one before them has put too much work in not to enjoy the moment.

Believe me, as soon as the news hit, mixed emotions got the best of me. I definitely wasn’t immune to putting DD on a hometown pedestal. But there comes a time when favouritism have to be put aside, even if the fear of Leonard being a one-year rental is very real.

By the way, there’s a number of potential safeguards in place to ease that fear.

1. The ability to offer him the most money come next offseason.
2. The option of dealing him at the deadline if the effort of endearing him to the city fails.
3. Whether he stays or goes, think of how much of an impact he’ll have on players like OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam. A duo that’s already ahead of the curve defensively.
4. Besides, a short stay wouldn’t leave the Raps without plenty of flexibility. Staying competitive while retooling at the same time would be the same as it ever was.

Related side notes: There may be bad blood between DeMar and Masai, but it’s not like DD will be joining T-Ross in Orlando next year. He went to a world-class organization and gets to play for a coach that’s on anyone’s Mount Rushmore. And if you’re lacking a connection off the court, give Danny Green’s new podcast “Inside the Green Room” a spin. I know it’s not the same but wounds really do heal over time.

Perhaps part of all this is simply an “out of sight, out of out mind” recency bias. If you were to rewind back just one season, with no injury, no personal medical staff, or any of the perceived baggage, something tells me this level of uneasiness wouldn’t be so high.

He still has to prove he can get back to where he once was, but is Kawhi not one of the very few players you can actually describe as a “LeBron Stopper” with a straight face? Is his more efficient offensive skill-set not better suited for today’s NBA?One with a far more consistent 3-point shot to boot? You can be defiant if you choose, but one can definitively argue that the Raps got lucky Kawhi’s season played out like it did. We wouldn’t be having this discussion if it didn’t.

If after all this you still need a place to direct your anger, how about taking it out on the uptick in gun violence that’s spreading tragedy across the city. I live in the West End but my heart certainly goes out to those in the East.

If you still need to vent any frustration, I recommend complaining to the TTC about how poorly the seats are situated on the new streetcars. And if you’re still looking to be skeptical (this one is Raptors related, I swear), you’re better off questioning the hiring of Nick Nurse. Cause unlike the proven sample size of Kawhi vs. DeMar, Nurse is still a wildcard.

In a sense, though, the initial aftermath of the hire stopped me in my tracks the same way the trade did. I was ready and willing to go all-in on Jerry Stackhouse. It is a toss up on whether or not his playing experience would have translated to success, as that hasn’t always come to fruition for others in the past. But what I was sold on was his previous relationship, a championship one at that down in the 905, with the young core of the Raps’ future. An out-to-prove-himself coach that’s able to hit the ground running was seemingly the ideal card to play.

Yet, just like those hours/days following the deal, all it took was realizing the same intangibles can be said about Nurse. Along with the advantage of already having a voice with the vets. I just had to separate my emotions from what was best for the big picture.

(Fingers crossed Lowry welcomes a new authority and his old habits don’t come out of the woodwork.)

Which is not to say Masai/MLSE made the right decision by giving Dwane Casey his walking papers, or even bypassing equally experienced options altogether. Mostly because any bench boss that’s been through the NBA gauntlet only lends itself to a win-now philosophy. The rub, however, is it’s his job to put business before loyalty, even if the latter represents the Coach of the Year and a beloved fan favourite. Even more so when fans want to have their cake and eat it too. Better yet: The Mastermind Street Jam 2.0.

Playing it safe was a viable option. Business is booming and the status quo still had us hooked. But I’ll leave you with this: Don’t we want the man in charge to have a chip on his shoulder just like we do?

Dear DeMar DeRozan, you had the biggest chip of all, it was a pleasure. Best of luck in Texas.

Wait a minute, Kawhi passed his physical, right?!!

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