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
**SIGH** ….where to start….
While there wasn’t much happening on the court, as it was a linear continuation from the previous season, the only thing of note was that this was Vince Carters last full year as a Raptor. In all fairness to him, he had a pretty solid season considering all the turmoil that surrounded the club — playing 73 games.
The team did manage to set an NBA record by putting up 56 points (on 19 of 69 shots LOL FML) in a loss to the Timberwolves three games into the season. Call it a harbinger.
This iteration of the Raptors was the first of a 10-year treadmill run that sucked the life out of all us old and unfortunate enough to be there.
Kevin O’Neil was hired, replacing Lenny Wilkens, as head coach before the season. What to say about Kevin O’Neil…? Think a poor man’s version of Tom Thibodeau, a really really really poor man’s version. Faux defensive chops, but with even less ability to draw up an offensive set than Zarar does after popping 100mg of edibles.
The team he inherited was old and aging with limited offensive firepower, which were the only things he couldn’t be faulted for. To our horror, he equated a slow pace (Raptors played a league low PACE of 86.8) to good defense, with the philosophy of “if we can’t outscore them, hopefully we can put them to sleep long enough to get more buckets then they do.” That strategy actually somehow worked a bit until the All-Star game or so where the Raptors were a respectable 25-25, but the lack of depth (more on this later) in the front court made that style of play hard to sustain without any bigs to clog up the paint, and more importantly, a lack of actual defenders to defend.
His fascination with playing Michael Curry was the single biggest driver of alcohol consumption among Raptors fans that season. A note on Michael Curry: every single minute that man was out on the court exponentially flared up my IBS; I literally watched games with a bottle of Pepto Bismol in hand. To say this guy sucked at basketball was an understatement. The only explanation for his 11-year career was that he knew where every single body was buried on every single team he played for. It’s stressing me out thinking about him. He might be my most hated Raptor player of all time; at the minimum top-3. I’ll be back, I need to dig that bottle of Pepto Bismol out of the cupboard.
…Back to Grunwald, who inherited a young and promising team, then proceeded to trade his way out of a job seven seasons later — two years too late. Fired on April 1 (we thought it was a joke at first, but the joke was on him), a couple weeks before the end of the season. Good riddance! But the damage was done.
In the interim, he was replaced by Jack McCloskey who was a long time NBA insider and special advisor to Raptors ownership. This epoch of the Raptors was always on brand with their incompetence. In this instance, represented by them firing their GM weeks before the end of the season without a replacement in sight or a plan of action. His mandate was to find a GM for the organization while providing some stability (lol fuck off) during the process.
McCloskey and crew apparently went through a list of 10-12 candidates and even interviewed Julius Erving, whom Vince Carter publicly and very aggressively lobbied for. The Raptors met with Erving after McCloskey publicly said Erving was already out of the mix a week or so before the interview.
“It was a communication breakdown and that was my fault,” team president Richard Peddie said. “He said he was out of the picture, but I had yet to see him.”
McCloskey threatened to quit after being embarrassed.
Stability? GTFO! Do you see how dark, hopeless, and embarrassing it was to be a Raptors fan? Ever wonder why some of us old heads were brought to tears by the championship in 2019? Like, this was unbelievable. Imagine winning a gold for the high jump: pretty cool. Now imagine winning it while jumping out of a hole littered with cigarette butts and Pepto Bismol. That was this era.
Babcock was hired on June 1, three weeks before the 2004 NBA draft. Three weeks? Three fucking weeks! Stability and planning? GTFO!!!
Babcock had spent the last two seasons as the top assistant to Timberwolves’ general manager Kevin McHale, serving as the team’s vice president of player personnel. Those Timberwolves teams were pretty good but from what we saw of Babcock over the next two seasons, he had nothing to do with it.
“Rob was on our list from Day 1, and then we brought him in and he quickly went to the top of that list,” Peddie said. “I went back to Rob and said ‘Rob, this is such a critical hire for us. I want to make sure you are the right guy. I’m going to do that by doing more homework on you, but I’m also going to look at what else is out there.'”
He got a four-year deal with a fifth year team option.
After getting the job, he literally said:
“Vince doesn’t know me. I wouldn’t expect him to be overly excited about Rob Babcock, I’m not a household name.”
On his strategy:
“Within two years we’re going to be a very good basketball team, I’m not really worried about how many wins we get right away, or whether we make the playoffs within the first year or two. Our goal is to establish our philosophy.”
So in two years we are going to be a very good basketball team with no regard to how many wins, or if they even make the playoffs at all in those two years? I need a cigarette….
He at least made a good decision to fire Kevin O’Neil after an ulcer-inducing 33-49 year season.
From a roster perspective, notable moves included:
July 16, 2003
Signed Milt Palacio as a free agent.
Signed Jérôme Moïso as a free agent.
August 28, 2003
Traded Lindsey Hunter to the Detroit Pistons for Michael Curry.
– The team went from bad to worse. In hindsight, Joe Dumars should have gone to jail for grand larceny.
December 1, 2003
Traded Antonio Davis, Chris Jefferies and Jerome Williams to the Chicago Bulls for Lonny Baxter, Donyell Marshall and Jalen Rose.
– This was a gift and a curse. The Raptors got a bit younger and more athletic and dynamic with some scoring chops, but they absolute pillaged the front court. Kevin O’Neil drunkenly (he was always drunk, had to be) complained about the lack of depth in the front court all year. While the Raptors were ahead of the curve with respect to small ball, Bosh wasn’t ready, and we weren’t athletic enough to run anyone off the floor. They did shed bad salary for less bad salary in the process, but I’m splitting hairs here. Call it a win, but barely.
January 2, 2004
Traded Mengke Bateer, Remon Van der Hare and a 2005 second-round draft pick (Travis Diener was later selected) to the Orlando Magic for Robert Archibald and a 2005 second-round draft pick (Roko Ukić was later selected).
– Bateer was a legend in China, but that didn’t translate in the NBA. Got a second rounder for him at least, but Ukić was never properly utilized)
Like most of the drafts those days, I was watching with my buddy Rod, and we wanted one of Luol Deng, Andrew Iguodala, Josh Childress, Sebastian Telfair, or Al Jefferson. In that order.
This is how it played out:
Dwight goes first – ok, ok.
Emeka Okafor second – right, they were going to go one-two in some order.
Ben Gordon third – love Ben Gordon, good get for Chicago.
Shaun Livingston fourth – kid out of high school with some chops….hmmmm (Raptors picking in four now and dare I say it’s looking good).
Devin Harris fifth – we’re sitting up in our seats now, we’re going to get one of our top three guys!!!!
Josh Childress sixth – standing up and bumping shoulders cause we can’t sit still.
Luol Deng seventh – FUUUUUUUU BUT WE GOT ANDRE IGUADALA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! JUMPING UP AND DOWN IN A HALF DAZED, HALF JOYOUS, HALF DELIRIOUS DAZE!
Disaster at eighth – …….WHAT? WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK???????? ARE YOU FUCKING SERIOUS? FUCK. FUUUUUCKKKKKK.
In The Moment
WHAT IN THE ACTUAL FUCK? That draft made us feel something we never felt before in our lives. A kind of hopeless loss in an endless abyss of misery. Words can’t describe it, but having to relive it to write this piece is giving me acid reflux.
While it was disappointing to lose out on Deng, who was an absolute gem out of Duke, Andre Iguadala (All-Rookie First Team Iguodala. All-Defensive First and Second Team Iguodala. NBA All-Star Iguodala. Three-time NBA Champion Iguodala. Finals MVP Iguodala) was sitting right there, looking us in the face. Dude was right there for picking, and no, can’t have him. You want happiness? NOPE.
Our boy, Babfuck (RIP), zagged by taking Hoffa who was projected as a mid-teens lottery pick at best, and didn’t make many mock drafts as a first rounder. It was a simultaneous kick to shin, knee to the balls, punch to stomach, elbow to the face, Stone Cold Steve Austin Stunner all in one fluid motion.
Now, a bit of context. The Raptors had no one at the center position. Nobody. As good as Bosh was and would be, he was a power forward and didn’t have the frame to bang in the block with the big boys for 38 minutes a night. Not without the league evolving the way in did when he went to Miami. So yea, you could say Babcock made the correct needs determination, then had a stroke and grabbed a kid who put up decent stats for a nobody school against nobody competition producing nothing of note.
Amazingly, just two years prior, he was caught juicing (nandrolone) and got handed a 24-month suspension from international play, but that didn’t seem to come up in Babcock’s diligence.
This was an L from the moment it was announced. Babcock’s first move as the Raptors new GM was a fuck you to Raptors fans. It wouldn’t be his last.
What It Meant For The Raptors
So very quickly, Absolute zero is the temperature at which the particles in a substance are essentially motionless (the slower particles get harder the substance becomes i.e ice = slow and gas = fast). There’s no way to slow them down further, so there can be no lower temperature. This is what picking Araújo meant. We couldn’t have done anything lower. My sister would have picked a better player by default. It was a literal and metaphorical absolute zero.
The Rafael Araújo pick was a symptom of the larger problem (inept management) — not the cause, but it was also a problem on its own. In 139 games he played over his three-year career, he scored in double digits six times — problem. Had double digit rebounds twice — problem. He did absolutely nothing, it was like he wasn’t even there, but worse, since every time you saw him you were reminded of Iguodala. IS THIS WHAT YOU LEFT ME FOR?
From an unemotional perspective, Araújo was an asset that had absolutely no value (if he was a financial asset, he would have been marked down 100 percent — fire sale, must go). Like the analysts said in the video above, the Raptors could have had him much later. Much, much later.
He represented a roster spot that could have literally gone to anyone else, and a $2.4 million hit on the cap for two seasons until, by the grace of God, we were somehow able to trade him for Kris Humphries (a trade that can only be attributed to divine intervention). That trade cost the Raptors an undisclosed amount of money, but it was money well spent.
From a team continuity perspective, having Iguodala on the roster when Vince was shipped off for spare parts would have given the Raptors two young stars to build around, and not just put the whole load on Bosh’s shoulders.. More functionally, he would have slotted in immediately for Carter at the small forward and getting the reps he needed to develop.
Iggy wasn’t exactly balling in his rookie season, so it’s not like there wouldn’t have been any drop off (he needed a couple seasons to find a rhythm) from Vince, but you could see something was there. This is the team building and continuity thing I’ve been harping about here these last couple weeks. Profoundly offensive.
He couldn’t have been that bad, Sam; you’re exaggerating. No, he was. After getting cut by the Jazz, he was cut from the Timberwolves, blaming it on the arrival of Kevin Love LMFAO. Found new life in China, but flamed out again from the the Shanghai Sharks, going back to Brazil where to his credit he had one nice moment:
…but we can just go ahead and attribute that to a production flaw during manufacturing. That dunk looked about as aggressive as Zarar does after Iftar on day 28 of Ramadan.
Babcock’s hiring, and subsequent incompetence — starting with the drafting of Hoffa (the only cool thing about him was his nickname, and he didn’t even deserve that) — set he Raptors back nine years, solidified Vince Carter leaving. and cost us two years of our lives. Probably 15 considering what it did to my heart. An unmitigated, hostile disaster. I can’t. I can’t…too much anger still.