The Raptors and the Risk of Belief

It’s tough not to get caught up in it all.  An overall record of 23-7, with dominant wins over many of the team’s currently near the top of the NBA standings, and a season sweep over the defending champion Golden State Warriors (including a sizeable victory in Oracle without Kawhi Leonard).

Having he league’s second most efficient offense, with the league’s 7th best defense, and the second best net rating across the NBA, the profile of a contender is easy to see despite some let-down loses against inferior opponents, and looking back to July it’s easy to see a clear difference.

The day that the Raptors traded for Kawhi this past summer I expected this to happen.  I get swept away easily and tend to dream of the possibility, lowering my guard and putting myself in position to get hurt.  I followed Twitter more actively that day than likely any before or since, patiently waiting for the full picture to reveal itself.

DeMar for Kawhi.  Check

Danny Green also included.  Check

Raptors sending a first.  Just one?  Double check.

And Poeltl was going out.

Seriously? That’s it?

I was in love.  The Raptors were adding one of the NBA’s best players (when healthy), a solid role player in Green, and somehow managed to keep both Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby.  It felt too good to be true.  Then the first round pick was protected.  Oh, and the Spurs were sending the Raptors $5M in cash.

All day I kept my wife updated on what was happening, stupidly needing to share my excitement with someone who only cares because I do.  She had some concerns…

That’s what life has felt like as a Raptors fan.  Constant disappointment, mixed with moments of hope that make the crushing moments all the harder.  Sports fandom can suck, and we’ve had our fair share of the hardships.  I mean, we’ve been swept by the Wizards…that’s as dark as it gets.

I talked myself into it last year.  I thought it was different.  In many ways the team had the profile of a contender and was statistically read to make the leap come playoff time.  They were top 10 on both sides of the ball and were better rested than ever before due to their depth…

We all know how it ended.

After all, it’s hard not to get caught up in it all.  I can feel it happening again.  I’ve bought all of the stock I can get and see a team with the best record in the league and still with big noticeable room for improvement.  Rarely have they played a full 48 minutes of any game and they are still knocking the stuffing out of most teams.

As awful as those moments of defeat can feel, particularly in those times when the lights are at their brightest, that’s part of what makes being a fan so special.  Nothing is guaranteed ever guaranteed for us, and in the happier moments I can recognize the beauty of the struggle.

While back-to-back road wins against the Clippers and Warriors (a combined 36-18 prior to playing the Raptors) are not inherently more important after let downs against the Bucks and Nets, they feel that way.  The prior loses add value to the victories.  The lows help to define the highs, just as the highs help to define the lows.

And perhaps (likely?) this is getting a little too introspective for a Friday afternoon in mid-December, but it’s what has been on my mind for the past several weeks.  I’ve been trying to maintain perspective, anticipating the long season ahead, but that actually limits some of the excitement.  I love games like Wednesday where I can get lost in the energy of it all.  Where I can dream of what the Raptors can become and what they could potentially accomplish.

There are no guarantees that this season will not end in crushing despair reminiscent of our recent past.  There is no guarantee that the Raptors make the finals.  There is no guarantee that recent wins over the Warriors hint at potential success if the two teams were to meet in June.  It’s all on the table, and it’s the unknown that makes the journey that much greater.

This year once again feels different, and I’m going to ride that wave until I’m either heartbroken again, or vindicated for the first time.  Because one thing is certain: this could be a fun journey to be on.

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