I can say that the last year or so has been the most painful in doing the Dino Nation Blog and just in general as a Raptor fan since the very start. There was a long and painful off-season that was all about the NBA Lockout. It was a dark and dank time that offered no signs of hope for the coming fall. Even when the lockout came to an end sometime in November it did not really offer much hope in terms of the Raptors. Bryan Colangelo made it pretty clear by his words and his actions that the Raptors goals had little to do with what would actually take place this season. At least in respect to challenging to be back in playoffs. The Raptors basically were back to square one almost in some senses. They had a new coach that was going to "Change the Culture" of the Raptors. We have heard this before many times. To his credit, if anything this was accomplished this season, Dwane Casey actually did that. It was the flickering of that hope coming back. It had been all but erased when Chris Bosh took his talents to South Beach. The Raptors can say what they like about that, but they clearly got caught with their pants down in that whole situation. They were ill prepared to move on to a new era without Bosh as the centerpiece.
This off-season the Raptors have the chance to move forward from the abyss they have been in since Chris Bosh left. The buzz is back around the Raptors as they have been the most talked about team heading into the NBA Draft and NBA Off-Season. Colangelo offered no hope last season with the promise of hope in this season to come. He even did that in terms of his draft pick last season taking Jonas Valancuinas. Which at the time was not the most popular choice with many Raptor fans. After a year most folks have had a change of heart. That might be in part because of the Raptors marketing of their pick constantly, or it might be that Brandon Knight and Kemba Walker the two guys most fans wanted, have been below expectations at the start of their NBA careers.
The excitement is back in the Raptor fan base and you only need to spend a day on social media like Twitter to see that is. The danger is the excitement is based on rumours, talk and buzz. Bryan Colangelo to keep this momentum going needs to answers this buzz with actions that live up to it. Which could be pretty hard to do when all is said and done. We have heard names like Steve Nash, Rudy Gay, Andre Iguodala and others as being possible Raptors. There is also a buzz around the draft as well and what the Raptors could do with 8th pick if they in fact keep it. Colangelo has done nothing to throw a wet blanket on these expectations so you have to believe he is going to try and match them or exceed them. This is by far the most challenging off-season for Colangelo in his time in Toronto. To say that it is make or break for his legacy and long term job security is not speculation as much as it is fact.
I have said many times that in all sports what a sports franchise is in the business of really doing, is selling this idea of hope to it's fanbase. The Raptors are once again able to do that with fans having some realistic and some not so realistic expectations for this franchise and the players that make up the roster and those who could. If at the end of this off-season the Raptors can be considered a playoff team or a contender to be one that will be the first step in restoring some real hope for this franchise. Something that has been hard to do even when they had Chris Bosh for the last couple years of his run here in Toronto. It is always a good feeling to have hope for the future. Not just in sports but in life in general.
The next step in this process of hope might not be so easy. It is the same one that 27 other NBA Teams will face. That is how on earth can you be a serious contender for a NBA Title. If the first two games of the NBA Finals have not convinced you that OKC and Miami is on another level from the rest of the NBA you will eventually learn this lesson. It is more than logical to think we can be on the verge of a Celtics vs Lakers type of rivalry that could dominate this decade. But the Raptors are far from worrying about those monsters that lie ahead they would just like to get back to the post season and be part of that conversation. In a season that might include the NHL being on the sidelines with their own lockout. This is a time to capture the hearts and minds of the casual sports fans in Toronto and Canada. The Raptors had this handed to them before when the NHL missed an entire season and they missed out on that golden opportunity. They now may get a rare second chance to get it right. This a long with the fact you have a fan base that is starting to feel like they have seen it all before and tired of excuses and want to see some results. The time is now for the Raptors to be on the attack. We have 15 days to July the 1st and the Raptors in that time need to find a way to make all the right moves and cash in on all this buzz and hope that has been created.