With the 2022 NBA approaching on June 23rd, we want to take a look back at the Raptors draft history; giving a bit of an accounting of the state of the Raptors, what we thought of the pick in the moment and in retrospect. Each day we will examine the Raptors significant pick(s) and additions in each draft, and frame it in the context of what was going on during that year. You can find all the pieces in this draft history project here.
The State of The Raptors Heading Into The Draft
When examining and contextualizing the Raptors draft history, it is vital to understand why the Raptors took the player they did when they did, and while none of us were in the room when those decisions were made, time has painted a very clear picture on how they got to those decisions; we just have to piece it together.
Years of smart drafting and trades saw the Raptors rise for the first five years of their existence into the top third of the league. Enjoying not only playoff success, but giving us players whose jerseys we proudly wore. All this to say that we can take that first eight years of the Raptors’ history as the first epoch of this franchise. A good epoch. The second one started with the 2003 draft…
The 2002-2003 Raptors were a fucking disaster; they went from a dark-horse contender to zero faster than Grunwald could make a trade. And he made them without purpose or thought — speed was maybe the only consideration. The sheer volume of player mismanagement, trades, and front office shenanigans over the last few seasons that year were served up as a glorious poo-poo platter of hostility towards the fans.
The Olajuwon signing ate $6 million of the $55 million payroll — for a player who retired the previous year (the Raptors would continue to pay him $6.4 million in the 2003-04 season) — was crippling from a roster construction perspective (front offices were not as sophisticated with respect to cap-management as they are now…for the most part).
While the resigning’s of Antonio Davis ($60 million over five years), Jerome Williams ($41 million over seven years), and Alvin Williams ($37 million over seven years) back in 2001 were lauded as coups (they were valuable players and the Raptors were able to keep them for about market value at a time where they couldn’t hold on to the lint in their pockets), those checks started coming due from a cap perspective real fast.
The 2002-03 Raptors iteration was an overpaid, win-now-with-no-chance-of-winning, aging, unathletic bunch who couldn’t score and could barely defend, with no chance of winning 25 games (they finished the year 24-58) much less make the playoffs. They started the season 6-4, lost their next six straight, followed by a 12-game losing-streak mid-season, and finally finishing the year 0-8.
They were coached by an out-of-touch relic (sorry, Lenny) who couldn’t lead, motivate, or game-plan to save his life (unsurprisingly getting fired at the end of the season to all our relief).
Compounding the problem was an incredible stretch of epic injuries:
- Lamond Murray missed the whole season.
- Antonio Davis missed 29 games.
- Vince Carter missed 39 games, some to a lingering knee injury, and some to…ugh…some to questions surrounding his heart/commitment to the team).
In a tragic twist, Carter was voted an All-Star starter that season but succumbed to intense media and peer pressure to give Jordan, his final year in his second comeback year, his spot in the starting lineup because why the fuck not? As big a Jordan stan as I am, I was a bigger VC stan, and that pissed me off and was also one of the reasons we called him a fucking pussy.
There were two brightish spots that year:
- They went 18-25 in the games Vince played
- Rafer Alston gave us some excitement off the bench in a limited role
I said “brightish” not a north star. That was a fucking dark year, man.
From a roster perspective, notable moves included:
September 25, 2002
Traded Michael Stewart and a 2007 first-round draft pick (Jared Dudley was later selected) to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Lamond Murray and a 2004 second-round draft pick (Albert Miralles was later selected).
– Lamond Murray was an established scorer on the wing, and this was seen as a move to bolster the team to the playoffs, but Murray was injured and didn’t play a single minute.
October 21, 2002
Signed Voshon Lenard as a free agent.
– A high-usage — low-efficiency shooting guard who could get you buckets but at the cost of your soul.
So while we were spared Grunwald’s coke-inspired trade volume from the previous season the result was equally bad.
|Pick||Player||Drafted By||College Team|
|1||LeBron James||CLE||High School|
|4||Chris Bosh||TOR||Georgia Tech|
|6||Chris Kaman||LAC||Central Michigan University|
Greatest draft of all time? Top two? Wherever you rank it, it was incredible. one MVP. two Finals MVPs. nine All-Stars. three top-75 all-time players. Multiple NBA champions. A ton of solid rotation pieces who contributed to winning teams. Absolutely stacked.
The Raptors basically needed help everywhere, and this draft had something at every position. LeBron goes first to his hometown team. Detroit, in an incredible brain fart moment Detroit takes Darko over Carmelo, giving Denver the reigning NCAA champion, then it falls to the Raptors who snatch up Bosh who was a beast at Georgia Tech.
Bosh is the new-age agile, athletic big who stretches the floor, can take guys off the dribble, and defends (we could use that rn nm).
In The Moment
Like I said, the Raptors were weak up and down the roster and couldn’t go wrong with either Bosh or Wade. At the time, I was thinking that while Davis was getting up there in age, we had a bit of a front-court by committee (I’m obviously being super generous with that assessment) situation and that our guard rotation was absolute trash.
Alston was a FA, and not an answer to any serious question the Raptors were asking, and the rest were even worsemaking us more needy at PG than PF by my estimation. Having watched a ton more Wade than Bosh in college, and given my ever-present affinity for athletic-dynamic wings in the mold of Jordan, Wade would have been my pick.
To also be fair, I had Kirk Hinrich ranked higher than Bosh, but with Wade available I would have been saved if the choice were mine. I would have also screwed up the LeBron pick, taking Melo over him; I highly value NCAA champs, and Melo was an absolute stud winning the championship as a star freshman. In an alternate universe, if LeBron, Melo, and Wade went 1-2-3, we would have been stuck with Darko Miličić with the fourth pick because come on… who are we kidding?
To go down this dark rabbit hole even further, had the Raptors taken Wade instead of Bosh, he would not have become this version of himself under a Kevin O’Neil regime (we’ll get into that tomorrow), and we would have been talking about him like we do McGrady (we saw the potential, he showed greatness, but bolted a year before he became a stud…lots of alcohol and liver failure in that world for us). So I guess what I’m trying to say is that things could have been worse in 2003? It didn’t feel like it.
Another sidenote: I wasn’t high on Bosh until much later into his rookie season, having still been stuck in the 90s style of hard-assed PF/Cs who lived in the paint and made their living off drop-step dunks and fade-away jumpers from the block. Took me a bit to get over how I thought a forward should conduct themselves.
All that to say Bosh was a great pick who gave us seven solid years and five as an All Star — the (tied) second most in franchise history. Tied with Carter, actually. His Raptors tenure is probably very underrated now.
What It Meant For The Raptors
Continuity is an important aspect of team building. We had McGrady (and Camby) when Stoudamire wanted out. We had Vince (and Christie), when McGrady bounced, and while we were a year away from Vince getting traded, we didn’t have a young player with upside on the roster (MoPete was good, but not great. Bradley…not good…and that was it — Alvin was overrated, and Rafer was brightish, but nah).
It was clear in his rookie season early that Bosh was a solid player. While he didn’t have the cache of a Wade (I’m not comparing him to LeBron or Melo , they were the alphas of the draft; took Wade another season to get there), he held his own, putting up 11.5 points 7 rebounds 1.5 blocks on good efficiency and reasonable usage.
A “holy shit” moment came early in the season against the Rockets, arguably his best game of the year. In a tight game, double-OT, Bosh hit a corner three to win the game. He finished with 25 points and 9 rebounds (6 offensive) off the bench. Big cahunas, man.
By his second year, it was clear he was a future All Star, and he actually became an All Star the following year (his third in the league), where he stayed for 11 straight years until his premature retirement.
But how good was he really? When he was drafted, the Raptors’ roster wasn’t optimized for anything, really. We had Vince, and that was basically it. The first two seasons of Bosh’s career showed some real growth for Chris. The improvement was evident via eye-test at the time (and now looking back through advanced stats, we were all correct).
As the Vince Carter saga wound down, we were scared Chris would feel the same ways that Stoudamire, McGrady, and Doug Christie did (happy to get out and as far as away as possible) before skipping town, but in a wonderful time before Twitter existed, Chris stepped up and his “I got this” is lore now, and while it took about a year and a half to properly transition the team from Vince Carter to Jalen Rose to Chris Bosh, he showed immediate value in his first year at the helm.
While the Raptors did change some personnel between the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons, and improved a bit around the fringes, the real difference was getting Jalen Rose out of the way.
Chris always took good shots and was pretty efficient overall, but now that the offense was going through him (and not to him) the ball moved much better around the perimeter.
His defense also took a huge step up; he was a monster on the boards, great at rotating and protecting the rim…the pick-n-roll defense also made us purse our lips and furrow our brows in approval. He did the big stuff and the little stuff. When given the reigns, the Raptors under Chris Bosh’s leadership won 20 more games with basically the same team. That’s elite level stuff. Once his braids grew in a season later, it was over. CB4 was in business.
While he left in 2010 to play with LeBron and Wade (dramatically chopping off his dreads in the process…see, the problem with Bosh was that he was tall and skinny with a long neck, the dreads went a long way in giving him some balance from a visual/aesthetic perspective) we weren’t really mad. LeBron got all the hate cause of his stupid ridiculous show.
Bosh wasn’t the hero we wanted (we were a bit spoiled with a generational level talent in VC, who made players like Stoudamire and the Raptors version of McGrady seem like more than they actually were), but he was definitely the hero we needed. Dude stepped up at a time when the franchise and city needed him the most, won us games, got us to the playoffs, stayed when it mattered, and when things had run their course, he left for new opportunities with a quiet dignity that you had to respect the shit out of.
He also made the greatest “Vote for Me” All-Star game video of all time
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