For too long, there has been a notion that American NBA players don’t want to play for Canada’s team. However, after building a winning culture, showcasing that Toronto is a beautiful city, and even capturing a league championship, the tides are set to swing in the Raptors’ favour.
With the initial frenzy of the 2020 NBA free agency period nearing its end, the biggest winners and losers are yet to be determined. While the Los Angeles Lakers appear to be the biggest winners as they added 2019-2020 Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell, not to mention Sixth Man of the Year runner up Dennis Schröder, the Milwaukee Bucks still have the potential to be the biggest winners (or losers) of this year’s free agency. Two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo has not yet signed his super-max contract extension and the entire league is on notice.
Should the Greek Freak decide not to sign his extension this offseason, the exact same deal will still be available to him next summer. Numerous teams in the league such as the Miami Heat, New York Knicks, and Dallas Mavericks have tooled their roster to have lots of available salary cap space for the potential scenario where Giannis becomes a free agent next summer. Also, among these teams is the Toronto Raptors. The Raptors didn’t make too much of a splash during this free agency. They locked up Fred VanVleet long-term, while securing some other role players to fill out the roster. The biggest goal for the Raptors was to keep the cap space open for the possible scenario of Giannis becoming a free agent.
Historically, major NBA stars don’t sign in Toronto. They tend to be unfamiliar with Canada, Ontario, and the city itself. All they really know is that it’s really freaking cold and snowy up here. Toronto doesn’t tend to get many prime-time games on American networks, and up until 2019, the Raptors hadn’t really won anything. All of that has changed now. With NBA All Stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan embracing the city (and Kawhi Leonard for the one year he was here), Toronto is now starting to get on the map as a great place to play. Here are the reasons why every NBA player should want to play for the Toronto Raptors:
One of the most notable reasons to play for the Raptors is the huge fanbase. Being Canada’s only NBA team, the Raptors wield the support of the entire country. From Victoria, BC all the way to St. John’s, NF, everyone is a Raptors fan. The Raptors sell out Scotiabank Arena for nearly every game, and Jurassic Park (Maple Leaf’s Square) fills up for an outdoor viewing party in the cold Canadian winter. Raptors fans are loud and proud, and love to support our squad.
Oh yeah, did I forget to mention that Drake is a Raptors fan? The October’s Very Own rapper (among other things) was born and raised in the 6ix and is an official Raptors ambassador. The Raps also have Super Fan Nav Bhatia who has been to every Raptors home game in the history of the franchise. NBA players love having the support of the hometown crowd, and Toronto Raptors fans provide one of the biggest homecourt advantages in the league.
Ownership & Management
The Raptors have a very solid ownership group in Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment. With the mission statement of “Bringing the world to its feet”, MLSE does just that. They do a phenomenal job of running all their franchises while providing exceptional experiences for their fans. Strong ownership is the base of the pyramid of success for any sports franchise. With MLSE, the Raptors have just that.
On top of strong ownership, the Raptors have President Masai Ujiri. Ujiri isn’t afraid to shake things up for the team to succeed. Although former Raptors coach Dwane Casey had just won coach of the year, Masai understood that he had reached his peak with the team. He made the very controversial move of letting Coach Casey go and appointing Nick Nurse as head coach of the squad. Nick Nurse went on to win NBA Coach of the Year as well as an NBA Championship in his second season as head coach. Ujiri also made the decision to trade franchise corner stone DeMar DeRozan, along with Jakob Poeltl and a first-round pick, in exchange for a very disgruntled Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. Leonard was coming off a season in which he had only played nine regular season games due to injury, and while Danny Green is an incredible three-and-D, many didn’t think the two players matched the value of DeRozan and up and coming star Poeltl. Ujiri had a vision that he wanted to bring to light, and even with the doubt of many Raptors fans, he made that vision a reality. That reality ended up being a championship for Toronto. Ujiri has an excellent understanding of the NBA and isn’t afraid to shake things up in order to succeed.
While a GM and Ownership committed to winning are important to attracting NBA talent, the coach is equally important. It is the coach that decides the system the team will run, and who gets on the floor. Raptors Coach Nick Nurse is a player’s coach. Having won NBA Coach of the Year in 2019, he has very quickly established himself as a premier coach in the league. Nurse can effectively distribute minutes to get the most out of his players. Nurse load managing Kawhi Leonard with minute restrictions and game restrictions helped keep Kawhi fresh for the playoffs. Nurse also saw the potential in Fred VanVleet and decided he needed a bigger role. This decision led to the undrafted guard out of Wichita State becoming the highest paid undrafted player in the history of the NBA. Coach Nurse also runs incredible zone defenses which suffocate the offense and allow the team to survive runs in games where the shots just aren’t falling. The combination of MLSE, Masai Ujiri and Nick Nurse help to make the Raptors an attractive franchise as a strong organization is a huge part to being successful in the NBA.
In many sports leagues, you can’t be successful without a strong roster. The NBA is no different. Championships are normally won by a team with two or more superstars, and above average role players carefully placed around them. While it’s no secret the Raptors won’t win a ring this year, they are one superstar signing away from being a favorite to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy.
Point Guard Kyle Lowry is coming off another all-star season, and stretch forward Pascal Siakam joined him by getting an all-star nod of his own. Kyle is a desirable teammate as he is a floor general with enough heart to go around for the whole team. He can take some of the pressure off a superstar player to be the best at everything all the time and knows when to feed the ball to his teammates to keep everyone active in the game. While we are yet to find out if Siakam will reach a point where he can be the best on a championship team, he has proven he can be second. With the ability to score 20 or more points a night, defend multiple positions, attack the paint and even shoot the three, he is a versatile all-star that will make a dependable second to a superstar teammate.
The Raptors also have lots of talent outside of their two all-stars. VanVleet is locked up for four more years and still has room to improve. Forward OG Anunoby has shown he can be a lock down defender and is slowly improving his offensive skillset. Norman Powell provides scoring punch off the bench and is always prepared to step in as a starter if we lose a player to injury. The Raptors roster has solid depth, scoring and defense. They are a team that is attractive for any star to join as they already have everything figured out. They are just missing one more player to get them over the hump once again.
The team from the north has proven that they deserve their respect on the big stage. With their championship in 2019, the Raptors put the world on notice that they are here to stay. With incredible fans, ownership, management, and a roster that can ball, every NBA player should be looking at Toronto as a city that they could call home.