Over the last 5 years, everyone has heard the talk of how ‘this year is different from last’ or how “this will be the year the Raptors finally get over the hump”. The team shines throughout the regular season and then comes up short during the playoffs, especially last year when LeBron James seemingly flicked the Raptors away like an annoying little fly who never had a chance. Ever since the 2013-14 season, the Raptors have emerged as a perennial playoff contender. But this years team differs in so many ways from that of years past.
Toronto may not win a championship this year and sure, that will be seen as a disappointment. But the entire organization, from the head office, to the coaches, to the players, to the people behind the scenes embraced the culture shift general manager Masai Ujiri implemented in the summer. In order for change to occur, you have to look at the origin of the situation.
Specifically speaking, the head office personnel looked off the court before they looked on it when figuring out ways to establish a new identity. Right after Toronto’s 2nd round defeat to the Cleveland Cavaliers last season, Ujiri was adamant in stating “we have to dig deep into everything we do. We can’t just pinpoint coaching. We can’t just pinpoint not making shots. It’s our attitude, our leadership, everything. The way we work together. I think those things we need to revisit and then get on with it.”
Most teams come into the summer looking at what they need to change on the court. They analyze their players, call other teams to see who’s available on their roster and negotiate with free agents. The Raptors decided they needed to change their entire organizational philosophy. Toronto didn’t clean house or get rid of any big names. They made some subtle moves and developed their bench in a more organic method of tweaking their roster.
The talk about who would reign supreme in the east this past year always included Boston and Cleveland. Toronto was mentioned but the debates always cited the Celtics and Cavaliers as the heavyweights. Fast-forward to the end of the regular season and these are the top 8 seeds in the Eastern Conference:
- Toronto – 59-23
- Boston – 55-27
- Philadelphia – 52-30
- Cleveland – 50-32
- Indiana – 48-34
- Miami – 44-34
- Milwaukee – 44-38
- Washington – 43-38
In all the interviews about their resounding success, the team used two words more than any other: accountability and communication. The Raptors do everything together. Beginning practice, ending practice, eating, being on the road and all the above as it pertains to being a Toronto Raptor.