An open letter to the Toronto Raptors from an admittedly emotional fan
Dear Masai (and I guess Dwane),
I want to start by taking a step back and thanking you both for what you’ve done for the Raptors, Toronto, and basketball as a sport in Canada and beyond.
The past five years have brought something that I — as a Torontonian born in the 90s — have never really experienced before as a sports fan: sustained success.
The Jays won back-to-back in 1992 and 1993 when I was still figuring out how to walk and/or not shit my pants so that doesn’t really count. And the Leafs had a couple solid runs in the mid 90s and early 2000s, but I was never much of a hockey guy (and they ultimately didn’t win anything anyway).
So these past five years that you two have largely orchestrated have been pretty great (minus that Wizards sweep which was the Raptors fan-equivalent of looking forward to a satisfying burp only to throw up in your mouth), to the point that I’ve gotten to feel something else that I’ve never felt as a Toronto sports fan: spoiled.
I remember when just making the playoffs was a state of nirvana and anything that happened after that was gravy — even that round one game 7 loss against Brooklyn, however painful, left me feeling optimistic for the future.
Now, a first round appearance doesn’t even get me out of my seat. Like literally, not even out of my seat. I was offered good deals on tickets to both Game 2 and Game 5 of the Raptors-Wizards series this year and you know what I said? “Meh, I’d rather watch at home and wait until late round two, early round three.”
Oh, how foolish I was.
I am now looking back on and talking about April-2018-me like I’m reflecting on who I was 10 years ago. But the truth is, I may as well be, because May-2018-Raptors-fan-me would barely recognize April-2018-Raptors-fan-me in the mirror.
I had convinced myself that for the first time, I was going to see a Raptors team in the finals. Not the conference finals, the NBA finals. Like where the last two teams standing in the entire league play each other and the winner gets to hang a banner that actually means something (can we take down the division titles please?) and have a friggin’ city-sponsored PARADE. And this belief was in-large part because of the culture and momentum that you two had been progressively building since 2013.
It was the perfect storm:
Our core had been together for multiple years and had never looked better;
We were rocking a fresh new offence, orchestrated by your boy Nick Nurse, that wasn’t exclusively reliant on DeMar DeRozan 18-to-20-foot jump shots;
We had the best regular season in franchise history;
We were the #1 seed in the East; and most importantly
A LeBron James-led team looked like absolute trash.
What could possibly go wrong?
Dwane, maybe this is when you should stop reading — you’ve already had a rough enough day as is.
Fast forward to today and the Raptors are:
Out of the playoffs after another soul-crushing second round sweep at the hands of the Cavs;
Without a head coach (who was probably fired one year too late — Dwane, I thought I told you to stop reading); and
In that awful, nervous state you try to avoid at all costs as a franchise of, “what the f*ck do we do now?”
Well Masai, if ever you were going to prove once-and-for-all that you are the second coming, pulling off some water-into-wine (or Ibaka-into-ANYTHING) moments this summer would be a good time. I understand we are in a bit of a pickle with our finances, but now that I’ve gotten used to sustained success (at least a Toronto sports fan’s definition of it) and being spoiled, I need more. To help you help me, I’m just asking for a couple of things:
1. Get rid of Serge Ibaka
I hope to you this one is obvious. I mean, what the hell happened to this guy?
He was supposed to be the final piece to take us over the hump. The guy that LeBron would fear when driving down the lane who would then effectively stretch the floor on the other end.
He was supposed to bring an energy and attitude to both ends that would fire up the team and crowd alike.
Instead, we got a guy who often looks out of place, makes dumb pass after dumb pass, and who has become a shell of his former defensive self.
Not only that, we got a guy who legitimately now struggles with some of basketball’s/life’s most basic skills…like catching a ball.
Serge, is it too much to ask you — a three-time, NBA All-Defensive First Team player who has also historically proven his ability to be offensively effective — to not dribble the ball off your foot multiple times per game? Oh, it is too much to ask? Ok thanks for clarifying, cheers.
I have nothing against Serge Ibaka the person. Off the court, he is seemingly a great and impressive guy: smart, stylish, handsome, well-spoken. But his on-the-court issues as of late are too much for my heart to handle so if nothing else Masai, please make it your duty that he’s speaking those four languages at another team’s press conference before October.
2. At least TRY to bring us a superstar, even if it is for one year
This might be one where I’m leading with my emotions instead of my intellect, but as good as DeMar and Kyle are, I am still looking to fill that massive superstar void that Vince left in my heart back in 2004.
I yearn for a playoff series where I can undoubtedly say we have THE guy — the one person who has both the talent and killer instinct to truly believe they can go toe-to-toe with anyone and come out ahead. In this current Raptors era, I don’t think we have ever been in a series where we’ve had the best player which is always scary because a best player — as the name implies — can on any given night out-duel your best player(s) and singlehandedly win a game. And even worse, I don’t think DeMar has ever believed he was the best player in a series either.
DeMar and Kyle are both fantastic players and true professionals — and their off-court relationship makes for several feel good moments every year — but neither of them have that ability or willingness to be that “everyone relax, I got this” guy. They are also both defensive liabilities, an often overlooked part of their game. They also both didn’t put up much a fight when down 3–0, both against the Cavs this year and against the Wizards in 2015 (see eerily similar scores below).
Running it back with the same squad and hoping that a new coach and another year of development will be enough is a bit too much of a long shot for me. And I also don’t want to have to watch another full regular season where I somehow convince myself we have a chance only to be heartbroken by the “same ol’ Raptors” come playoff time.
So there are obviously a few big names on the market, but the only one I think we have even a REMOTE shot at even MAYBE getting is Kawhi (AKA he’s the one I want) so he is the one I’m going to focus on.
Kawhi comes with risks (i.e. coming off a mysterious injury, would maybe/likely not re-sign next summer, not sure what his deal is with the whole ongoing beef/not beef with the Spurs) but just think about what he brings to the team beyond comically-large hands: a true superstar who can score on anyone and defend anyone (*cough* LeBron) on the other end.
Wouldn’t it feel nice to put Kawhi on LeBron in a playoff game and know that there isn’t a single person on this planet that could do a better job of slowing him down?
Making this happen would inevitably involve getting rid of DeMar and/or Kyle and would possibly wipe out our current 2–4 year “contending” window if Kawhi doesn’t re-sign next summer, but I’m getting to the irrational point where I don’t really care.
I’m sick of tricking myself into thinking our ceiling can go higher when deep-down I know it’s been the same for three years.
Incremental improvement and internal development can only get us so far.
Just look around the league. Almost every team not named the Spurs that has won a championship in the last 15 years has done so by making a big splash through a trade/free agent signing:
2004 Pistons brought in Rasheed;
2006 Heat brought in Shaq;
2008 Celtics brought in Ray Allen AND Kevin Garnett;
2009 Lakers had traded for Pau Gasol the year before (and then won again in 2010);
2012 Miami brought in LeBron and Chris Bosh the year before (and then won again in 2013);
2016 Cavaliers brought in LeBron the year before; and
2017 Warriors brought in Durant the year before.
I think this proves two points:
That you need a superstar to win a championship (which we don’t have); and
You likely won’t draft said superstar so you need to get him through other means.
So I urge you, make some calls. Stir the pot a little bit. Let us see some reports pop up to give us hope that change might be coming; otherwise, I and millions of others will have to nervously cheer through another stellar regular season only to be crushed when it really matters.
Before I end, I must say that I may not have even needed to write this letter if any of Fred Van Vleet’s/DeMar DeRozan’s/Jonas Valanciunas’s/and again Fred Van Vleet’s shots went in during late regulation or overtime of game one against the Cavs. But alas, they didn’t, so here we are: at a pivotal moment where most think we should either push forward and suck it up with what we’ve got, or tear it all down and start again.
But we don’t want another heartbreak and we don’t want another rebuild, so what does that leave us with? With door #3 of course; the option to be bold and take a moonshot at bringing a superstar to a superstar-hungry city (while getting rid of Serge Ibaka).
The ball is in your court, Masai (and Bobby). Please don’t let us down.