DeMar DeRozan Is An All-Star: Focus On That

It was one of the proudest moments I have had, as someone who is both a fan, and someone that covers the Toronto Raptors in a long time. DeMar DeRozan is going to New Orleans as an All-Star for the Eastern Conference. I have had the privilege of interacting with DeMar on many occasions since meeting the young man as a wide eyed rookie in Ottawa at his first training camp as a Raptor.

The amounts of times I have praised this young man’s work ethic are documented here in the Dino Nation Blog. He is just a great hard working young man who has made the most of his talent and ability to play the game of basketball. This for me is a moment of celebration that should be celebrated by all.

I was greatly upset by the reaction of a great many Raptors fans online via Twitter. Instead of celebrating the fact a young man that has worked so hard for his entire career for the Raptors and Toronto people focused on the negative of Kyle Lowry not being selected.

I can’t tell you how much this disappointed me. It was more disappointing than morons booing over pizza or quite frankly anything I can recall in covering this team in the Dino Nation Blog. Raptors fans often have complained about how players leave this franchise and the city. Yet a young man that has built his career here and made the decision to sign an extension here becomes the secondary story for people.

He has been everything that Raptors fans have said they want in a player in terms of working hard and being loyal to the fans of this franchise. Yet the focus is a guy that has been here less than two full seasons that got snubbed out of his chance to be an all-star.

There is no doubt that  Kyle Lowry has played unbelievable in this season where it benefits him greatly in the last year of his contract. If it was my choice he would be an All-Star as well and a deserving one. However I am not naive enough to not understand what the All-Star Game is to a great extent.

It is a political and popularity based system that selects the All-Stars. The game itself is nothing more than an exhibition to promote the NBA product as a whole. Kyle Lowry has had some rocky experiences with coaches who are the people that vote on the reserves. I would think those rocky experiences hurt him more than a jersey he wears or a city he plays in. Regardless of why it happened, it did happen, and it is unfortunate. Still it never should have over shadowed what DeMar DeRozan has done.

Terrence Ross was also deserving of a slot in the rookie-sophomore game to play along side Jonas Valanciunas. He had earned the right to be part of that game as well. But it did not happen and we can feel upset about that and perhaps slighted by the folks that select those teams. Again it is nothing more than a glorified exhibition game at best.

Will anyone complain if in two years a Raptor makes the ALL-Star Weekend when it is here in Toronto and some maybe more deserving person is cast aside for an event or the game itself. My guess in no, and if that becomes the truth than it is pretty hypocritical. But this is about putting together event that makes for the best entertainment for the NBA as a whole.

I use to be a big supporter of the NBA All-Star Weekend. I have become less of one over the years as I have come to accept the facts of it’s nature and all the politics and popularity aspects of it that enter into the game. Vince Carter was once the leading vote getter for All-Stars for I believe it was 5 years in a row. No one was screaming injustice than when he clearly was not the best player in the NBA. Vince for all his greatness was never a true contender for MVP of the NBA. Maybe in one season he was a dark horse but that is about all.

Which by the way makes those MVP chants for Kyle Lowry seem a tad bit silly. Maybe chant “Stay Kyle Stay” would be a more effective chant at this point. To even suggest Kyle Lowry is an MVP is quite insane. Kevin Durant is doing things that are historic in nature and is on a whole different level from Lowry. I would venture to say that Lowry might not even be the Raptors MVP by the season’s end in comparison to DeRozan. That is a much more even debate and something you can have a legitimate discussion about.

Toronto fans are always complaining about not getting respect for being the knowledgeable and smart basketball fans that they feel they have become. Complaining about how they and the Raptors never get respect that they deserve. Respect is earned and you have to go out and work hard for it ever single day.

DeMar DeRozan has done that and he is an All-Star. Fans chanting about Pizza and making ridiculous claims of MVP for players has not.

Raptors fans are legitimately excited about what has happened with this team this season. They should be and I respect and understand that. However some fans have gone completely over the edge in terms of that excitement and have lost all sense of their logic.

So much so that a young kid that has worked his ass off for them for 5 years and become an All-Star did not get the full respect and love for that accomplishment that he rightfully deserves.

As far as the stuff that matters, the Raptors are in Denver and DeRozan is on the trip but no word yet on if he will suit up tonight in Denver. There are a lot of people to figure out injury wise for the Raptors actually as the head into this game.  Enjoy this team for what they are doing but don’t lose sight of reality of things.

The guy you are all so upset hasn’t made the All-Star Game might not even be a Raptor at this time next year. That should be more of a priority or concern to worry about. No amount of outrage is going to change the fact that Kyle Lowry will be able to make a lot of money this off-season and there is no guarantee that he does it here in Toronto.  There is also no guarantee that he plays to this level when he has that new contract be it here or elsewhere.

But as I said at the start no amount of stupidity is going to wipe the smile off my face for a young man that I personally am extremely proud of and have always believed in achieving one of his goals as professional basketball player.

So Congratulations DeMar DeRozan you believed in yourself long before a lot of others in the media and in this fan base did. You have earned this moment through your hard work and dedication and I hope this is something you and your family can cherish for the rest of your lives. I also hope it is only the beginning of the next level of your career as a player and growth as man and human being.


State Of The DNB

The Raptors had a pretty uneventful easy win over the Magic. Kyle Lowry MVP chants are misguided and booing cause you don’t get pizza I have talked about far too much.

I want to address something that I have been fighting to avoid pretty much since prior to this season starting. I have done the Dino Nation Blog for the past 6 years plus of my life. It has become a huge part of who I am and part of my identity. It has offered me more experiences than I could have ever imagined. It has given me friends, experiences and last time I checked 1400 plus twitter followers.  None of that was ever the goal or intention of the Dino Nation Blog.

I have told the story before of how the Dino Nation Blog got started. It was an idea that came to me at 2am in the morning not long after my birthday. The part of the story that I left out was it was born out of a real depression that I was going through. As I have mentioned in passing I care for my disabled mother. This made the idea of having a media career somewhat unrealistic.

The truth is as far as I am concerned my number one job since I was 13 years old was to look after my mom. She wasn’t disabled back than but always struggled with pain in her knees that got worse over the years. It was always a struggle of how I could accomplish that number one job of looking out for her and still being able to have a career at what I love.

That love was sports and the media and most of all basketball. That has changed a lot especially in the last 6 years. I am frustrated by a lot of things that have gone on with sports media and the profession I love. I think a lot of bad stuff is happening that is not good for anyone. That is something I can likely deal with on its own. What I have a hard time dealing with is my own inability to give my 100 percent to it. Kind of ironic given at certain points in the history of the Dino Nation Blog I was praised for my work ethic above all else. I have always believed that the one thing you can control is how hard you work and try. I still do to a great extent.

What has become clear to me though is I can only get so far with my self induced limitations. I believe in my talent and I believe that I could have reached my goals with ideal circumstances. I am confident in my abilities as a broadcaster. As a writer that might be a different story but I have tried my best to improve over the years. I in a lot of ways built this thing using what I personally feel is my least effective tool. I would much rather talk to people than write. I attempt to do that even when I am writing. I want to have a conversation with you all. It may not make for great writing all the time but it is who I am.

The goal of the Dino Nation Blog was to build it into a vehicle to get to the point where I could do that through Radio and T.V. It has always been a struggle to balance everything. I never wanted to go into this depth about everything because I felt that no one is here to learn about my life. You are here hopefully because you love basketball and have a passion for the Toronto Raptors. I never wanted people to support this blog or myself out of some form of pity. I wanted people to support it because they liked it and they thought it was good.

That has been the other problem that is probably the basis for you reading this now. It has always been difficult to earn a living at this. I have always struggled to get by more than I am willing to share with you all. But I never was comfortable pimping the Dino Nation Blog as a means of support. The fact I have ever made a dime off of this is amazing to be honest. Still the reality is I need to earn a living. That struggle to make a living has become far too much of late.

I made the hard decision that this season I would commit to and beyond that I really could not. This is where we are at currently. This season, while the Raptors have finally started to have some measure of success, I have struggled in many more ways than you would likely ever imagine. It has got to the point that it has impacted on my ability to work as hard as I have in the past. I feel incredibly guilty about that fact. I am at times ashamed of myself for it. Other times I am not and feel that I have worked very hard and given all that I can possibly give to this.

I haven’t decided what the future will be for the DNB or for me. I will live up to the promise to myself of completing this season and decide from there.

I often laugh when people label me as negative about the Raptors. I am not negative I am and always have been a realist. I admire and love people who are able to live in the moment and enjoy it. To be hopeful and optimistic about the future is a wonderful thing.  In a strange sort of way the DNB itself is a representation of hope which likely seems strange to just stupid. But if you think about it for an idea that came at 2am in the morning it has come a long way. It just hasn’t worked out to be something that has led me to a place where I can provide for myself and my mother. I feel really guilty about that and have to take that into account. I owe it to myself and more importantly to her.

I desperately wanted this to lead to something that could do that. No one is a bigger fan of me than her and she is always far more proud of me than I deserve. I feel like I have given my 100% and still not actually was able to succeed at my ultimate goal.

I do love this so very much it like I said at the start has become a part of me. It has been a long journey that has offered me many unexpected surprises. I have had people express that I have inspired them to do things which is incredibly humbling. I didn’t start this for that. I have got to know people I consider friends. This was not an intention either but has happened. In caring for my mother it has made it difficult to have real friendships with people. I just have not had the time or the ability to make much of a friend for folks.

I am sorry this has become such a personal thing. I can’t help it though because this has become a part of who I am and all of you that have read or supported this thing for six years.

Will see what ends up happening but if this does end up coming to an end you all deserved to know why it has. You have invested your time in me through reading and listening to all that I have created.  If I hit the lottery tomorrow the Dino Nation Blog would never die. No one including me is holding there breath for that. Reality is what it is at the end of the day.

If I can figure out a way to keep this all going I will. That is why I added the Amazon stuff to the site recently. If people want use them it would help out. It might not help enough to keep this rolling but who knows.

If things have felt different or you have been disappointed in how the DNB has been this season you are not alone. I am more disappointed than anyone. I still feel I offer great opinions and insight into the Raptors and provide good content. What I am disappointed in is the lack of consistency.  I am trying but it is incredibly hard. So that is about it I have spilled my guts enough for one day and maybe a lifetime.

I hope people understand and all of you that have supported me over the years means the world to me and is probably why I have tried to keep fighting for my dreams and keeping this dream or thing that the DNB has become alive for all of you.


Kyle Lowry Leads Raps While Making Case For All-Star Status And Big Bucks

So the Toronto Raptors have clearly had the post Rudy Gay Trade honeymoon come to a close. They seem to have come back to earth than all of the sudden DeMar DeRozan puts up 40 in a win. They lose to the Clippers and lose DeRozan and Patterson gets a broken nose. Terrence Ross despite this ties the team’s all-time record for points in the regular season with 51 points.

It seemed like Raptors might just have hit a wall with injuries mounting up. Hansbrough has an ankle with the recuperation powers of Andrea Bargnani’s calf. Landry Fields, not that he was playing, but had to have wrist surgery again. Now the best player on the team is out heading into a critical game on the road against the red hot Nets who’s only loss in 2014 came in Toronto on Drake Night.

This seemed like the point where the Raptors run of good fortune had come to a close and a good dose of reality was set to be unleashed. Kyle Lowry would be having none of that though on this night. Lowry did a little bit of everything to spearhead a very grind it out effort by the Raptors. Lowry had 31 points along with 7 assists and 5 big steals on the night, Jonas Valanciunais who had a very good game that was somewhat lost with all the injuries and Terrence Ross hoopla had another solid performance tonight. A double-double of 20 points and 13 rebound.

This was a tight battle from pretty much the opening bell tonight in Brooklyn. The Raptors hit a couple threes the first by Ross and than by Lowry to take a 6-0 lead to start the game. Ross would only have 7 point the rest of the night proving that Sunday might have been the exception and not the rule. In any case the Nets fought to take a one point lead after one 26-25. The Raptors would end up with that slim lead heading into halftime.

Patrick Patterson would try starting this game with a mask for his broken nose but would choose to abandon it during the game. As it turned out he would want his face remembered as he hit the winning shot off a steal to give the Raptors the 104-103 victory. The win extended the Raptors lead in Atlantic Division to two and half games. More importantly it earned the Raptors a 2-1 lead in the season series and assured them at least a tie and chance to win the season series when they return to Brooklyn in March.

Pretty big stuff with your best player back in Toronto and it is unclear a timetable on when he will return. Kyle Lowry like DeRozan has been building a case to be named to the East reserves which should be announced on Thursday for the All-Star game in New Orleans.

Lowry is a key figure in this group and his uncertain future is why some like me are still a little worried about the future beyond this season. Lowry is going to be a free agent and clearly has earned himself a ton of money. It is just unclear from whom it will be and if he is worth it.

No question Lowry in motivated and playing to a level we have not seen. Is this just natural progression or the awareness of it being a contract year. A photo mad the rounds on Twitter of Masai Ujiri and Lowry hugging it out after this big win. This was viewed as some sort of symbol that Lowry would not be traded. Which is likely the case? Is it a simple of him re-signing with the Raptors? That for my money is taking things a step to far. Even if the Raptors do keep him in the fold do they end up buying at too high a price as they did in the past with Jose Calderon? This might be less of a problem with the new ownership at least giving all indications they are willing to spend money to build winners.

Still Lowry is going to have lots of attractive offers and L.A Lakers might be one of those teams. In addition his hometown Sixers would also have the money to make a pitch if they desired too. The road is not a simple one beyond this season.

As for this season which has been quite remarkable no one is fool hearty enough to think the Raptors could beat the Pacers or the Heat let alone both in a seven game series. So spoiler alert don’t expect a parade this year. If you accept that as fact it is about keeping this core group together beyond this season.

Patrick Patterson is the exact opposite situation from Lowry as is Grievous Vasquez where the Raptors hold all the cards there. Lowry is the wild card to all of this. You can bet if he does somehow leave the disgruntled members of tank nation will not let people forget it anytime soon. Not to mention it plays to that old pattern of the Raptors not being able to keep their own stars. We all know that list all to well by now. If you are one of those people that can live in the moment the Raptors are keeping you very happy.

This is despite some glaring flaws of late with the amount of points they are allowing and an offensive attack that at times I question if it holds up to bright lights and tighter defensive attacks that await in the playoffs.

But on this day the Raptors kept the wolves at the door for time being. It was a gutsy effort from a team and a group that really seemed to have bonded and come together this season through the ups and downs. Tonight was one of those nights that Raptors teams of the past would have been pissed about the call they didn’t get in the final seconds and lost the game.  This group is not much for excuses and is focused on getting wins no matter how they may come.


Raptors Short Term Future Is Suddenly Very Cloudy

The Toronto Raptors are in some serious trouble DeMar DeRozan has an injured foot and there has not been a timetable given for a return. He did not travel with the team to Brooklyn for a very important match-up with Nets. Patrick Patterson also broke his nose in that game but is with the team and expected to play tonight likely with a mask. Add this to the Tyler Hansbrough injury that was first said to be an ankle turn and now has been revealed to be a bone bruise.

Raptors fans were all excited by Terrence Ross and his performance in a loss to Clippers. Ross the next game after DeRozan had a career high 40 in a win tied the Raptors all-time scoring record with 51 points tying Vince Carter. It masked the injuries the Raptors suffered and their terrible defence overall surrendering 126 points to the Clippers.

One of the things up until this point is the Raptors have avoided any significant injures something that teams the Raptors are battling in the East have not had to endure. Chicago lost Derrick Rose, Atlanta Al Horford and the Nets Deron Williams to name just three teams that have lost major players.

This may test the Raptors ability to hang in the Eastern Conference depending on how long the Raptors will be without DeRozan. Ross may have had a night to be remembered but it is more about the consistency of performance. Charlie V once scored 48 points against the Bucks which is still the Raptors rookie record to this day. Brandon Jennings also scored 55 points in his rookie year and has praised as the next big star.

DeRozan has learned how to endure to be the guy down the stretch of games. Not to take away from what Ross did but when the game was on the line his performance did drop off. The Raptors never would have been in that game without him though it has to be said.

The Raptors are really in a spot where they could fall off and than be in the position that most who wanted this team to play for the draft had feared. That would be battling in the bottom half of the Eastern Conference playoff standings. Not exactly a place they want to be.

It also opens up the door for what the Raptors should do in regards to Kyle Lowry. The trade deadline is about a month away and where the Raptors sit in the standings at that point will be interesting to see. They looked to have turned the corner and been all in as far as this season goes. The idea of tanking is clearly dead but what to do about Kyle Lowry may not be dead.

In any case the Raptors are in tough tonight in Brooklyn and with a loss their lead in the Atlantic Division could fall to just a half a game. It is a safe bet the Nets will be looking to improve at the deadline regardless of what the Raptors choose to do or not do. The Nets are in a tough spot to make deals happen but they will be working hard to make something happen.

Obviously DeRozan and how long he is actually going to be out of the line-up will have a major impact on things. Even some of the Raptors depth has been compromised with Landry Fields recently having wrist surgery for second time inside of a year. Whatever you think of Terrence Ross he is not ready to be a number one or two options for this team even in a short term.

Raptors have some serious issues and they are really facing the most adversity they have since right before the Rudy Gay trade went down.


DNBCast of Raptors vs Sixers tonight.

Tonight the DNB is trying something new and asking you to help us out and take part in it. We were approached by a company called fandio. Fandio offers an alternate net broadcast experience for while you watch games. You can tune in and listen to yours truly broadcasting the game and there is a chat that you can interact with the broadcast. In fact there is the ability to include fans in the broadcast. It is in the Beta stages so to be part of the broadcast you need to be on a google chrome browser. But to listen in and participate in the chat you can do that from any browser you like.

It is something that seemed like worth trying. The DNB has moved away from game re-caps and this is a cool way to reintroduce that aspect to the blog.

FANDIO Broadcast Link- 6:55PM Tonight

So if you want to join me for the broadcast and help test this out it would really be appreciated.

As for the game tonight it is one the Raptors can’t afford to drop and it maybe a way for them to climb out of these slow starts. Will be talking about it tonight so I won’t get into to much. I look forward to giving this thing a shot.

So talk to you folks tonight just prior to game time in philly.


Raptors Falling Back To Pack In The East

The Toronto Raptors had their typical performance against the Charlotte Bobcats. While the Raptors have been having their issues of late some of the Eastern Conference has been getting their act together most notably the Brooklyn Nets. The Nets have climbed just two games behind the Raptors on the strength of winning 7 of their last 8 basketball games with the lone loss to the Raptors.

If the Nets were to catch the Raptors things get worse as both Chicago and Washington hold the same 20-20 record as the Raptors and the Hawks have moved past them in the standings. The Raptors hold the fourth seed currently based on being the division leaders but aside from that are in three way tie for fourth. So should the Nets pass them in the standing the pack as whole has made up ground in the East.

Many will focus on how the Raptors almost pulled one out of the fire storming back from 30 down at one point to be a Kyle Lowry free throw away from getting this game tied in the late stages. In my opinion while you can admire that fight to come back all you want the focus should be how on earth you got down to any team let alone the Bobcats by 30.

Charlotte has won 7 straight on their home floor against Toronto and swept the season series 3-0. It is something that is to say the least a little baffling how the Raptors have struggled with one of the worst teams in the NBA for years now. 

The Raptors look to do some sweeping of their own as the Dallas Mavericks pay a visit to Toronto. This means the annual visit of Vince Carter back to Toronto. I have grown so tired of the topic of Vince at this point. My position has always been the same and likely will never change. I am not here to tell you to forgive Vince or to encourage you to boo the man. I am not stupid enough to think I have any power like that.

We all have are own personal feeling about Vince and because they are that I doubt that many if any can be swayed from those.

There is a lesson in Vince Carter’s time here that relates to the current version of the Raptors. Lately we have heard about how now that the Raptors are having some success it might impact on their ability to draw interest in free agents as well as keep their own talent.

If Vince Carter could not draw players to play along side him do DeMar DeRozan and this group honestly have a chance? Does having a top named rapper being tied to the organization do anything change that. My guess is no.

What could change that is a willingness to spend money to levels this franchise has never really gone. As much as we all may love are country and love Toronto there is no way you can make someone feel that same passion without experiencing it first. This makes the reality that the Raptors might have to overpay to attract top free agents likely still the case.

As far as keeping talent some players will fall in love with the city like an Amir Johnson has or in the past players like Jerome Williams and others.  That does not mean everyone will and some players just would rather play in the country they call home as far as American players are concerned.

You only need to look back on some of the answers given when the Raptors travelled to London to take on the Nets a few seasons back. When the topic of having an NBA Franchise in London was brought up players were less than thrilled with the idea of a team being there and playing for that team.

It is hard to convince players to come play in Canada and you can just ask Vince or others like Chris Bosh about that.

Masai Ujiri has a tough job in front of him as far as all of this goes. He however was well aware of these issues before he signed on for a lot of money to come and take on the challenge.

In the short term the Raptors have fallen into a flat out regression and have struggled to get back to their ball movement on the offensive end and have been highly ineffective on the defensive side of the ball. Credit goes out to @DocNaismith for this next stat I am going to reference. Post Rudy Gay trade the Raptors record when DeRozan takes 20+ shots is 2-5 and 19 and below they are 11-3. Don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure this out right. Now sometimes being the number one option you are forced into taking some shots with the clock about to expire. However that aside DeRozan especially in late game situations as he did in Charlotte is forcing shots and his offence in general.

Regardless of if the Raptors get out of this slump they are in or not I have come to one simple conclusion. This team needs to get better in their half court offence and defence or they will get humbled in the post season. The Raptors can not avoid this as when the post season comes defensively teams tighten up. In addition teams get to see you for more than just one game and make adjustments. If the Raptors do not do this even making the post season at least for me that might be all for Dwane Casey.

Aside from just picking on DeRozan the Raptors bigs have been just terrible. Tyler Hansbrough has entered the witness protection program while Amir and Jonas have been out played by new comers Patrick Patterson and Chucky Hayes. Now Patterson is one thing as he is a solid young player with upside but Hayes is quite another. Jonas has looked frustrated and is constantly getting into foul trouble. Something that I expressed as the one major concern I had for him before he ever played for the Raptors.

Safe to say the Raptors’ Post Rudy Gay trade honeymoon has come to an end. Now is the time will see if this team can handle some adversity as the Eastern Conference is starting to show signs of life. 


Raptors Coming Back To Reality?

The Toronto Raptors are showing signs of coming back to earth after a weekend that saw them able to get one over Minnesota and drop one to a Laker team that is a shell of what it has been. Some of those habits from prior to the Rudy Gay trade are starting to resurface.

DeMar DeRozan struggled throughout the game with the Lakers looked much like the traded Gay. He was forcing shots and killing ball movement. DeRozan alone with Kyle Lowry have been pushed as deserving candidates to head to the All-Star Game next February in New Orleans. This would be the first time a Raptor has been in the Sunday game since Chris Bosh last appeared as a Raptor. If both were successful it would only be the second time the Raptors have sent two players to the game. Vince Carter went many times and once had Antonio Davis along for the ride as an injury replacement.

Maybe all the talk is getting to DeRozan and the Raptors as a whole. This team have never had the experience of playing with expectations night in and night out. Dwane Casey has been preaching his team is not the hunted but the truth is the Raptors are no longer a secret to the rest of the league.

What has also dropped off is the team’s defensive intensity has been inconsistent at best of late. They have been one of the best in the NBA on the defensive end since Gay has been moved. But at times in this Laker game they looked very much like the Raptors of old. They ended up blowing a lead of close to 20 points in this game.

The Raptors have less than 24 hours to re-group to face a team that always gives them headaches in the Charlotte Bobcats in a Monday matinee for MLK Holiday in U.S.

Along with the struggles of DeRozan you can add Jonas Valanciunas to that list. He has gotten into foul trouble and looked visibly frustrated. It has been a real up and down second season for the young Lithuanian. He looked reborn once Gay was out the door but has recently fallen off the map. Chucky Hayes has been playing more minutes of late and doing a better job defensively of late.

What perhaps has been accruing are the Raptors coming to the realization they can get away with winning games when they don’t have their “A” game. This is something Dwane Casey is trying to fight off in his team believing in their hype. But it is hard to avoid in this modern world of social media.

Perhaps the Raptors are reaching a point of balancing out after this amazing run after the trade. It seems fitting where it started with a win over the Lakers and ends with a loss to the Lakers. The Raptors schedule is still pretty favourable and they have a chance to distance themselves from the pack.

While everyone has conceded that the tank has been parked for good the Raptors but is Kyle Lowry’s status as Raptor? He has been a key figure in this run of success for the Raptors. In addition at the time the most intriguing name coming back in the Gay trade was Grievous Vasquez. While Lowry has shined Vasquez has not really looked all that good nor had the opportunity to find many minutes in his back-up roll as a result. Assuming Lowry becomes an All-Star it seems almost insane to think the Raptors would trade him days later at the deadline. It would have a negative impact on their playoff goals.

It is why this run while it has been enjoyable becomes the real story of the off-season for the Raptors. Can they re-sign Lowry and how much will it cost them. It seems clear Lowry is earning more dollars for himself almost on a game by game basis. The Raptors faced a similar situation with Jose Calderon and ended up paying him to the tune of 10 Million Dollars by the end of his contract. It was something that he clearly was not worth at the end of the day. You can argue Lowry is riding a roll just as good if not better heading into his off-season.

This will be the first real test for new management on if anything has really changed in Raptorland. There seems to be an attitude within MLSE to spend money as evidence by the moves they have made with TFC Soccer Club spending a ton of money to bring in from what people that know soccer say are good players. I know little about soccer and really it is the point they spent the money not the results of it.

If the Raptors are willing to be a luxury tax team the amount they spend on Lowry becomes less a concern. It becomes completely about if Lowry wants to be here and if he is offered something with another team that is more attractive to him. The Raptors opponent on Sunday might be a player in this. The Lakers Steve Nash might never be the same and would leave a real hole at the point guard position. L.A will have a ton of money to spend and Kobe Bryant was talking to Lowry at the game on camera. Not saying he was recruiting him right there but the fact they get along makes you think it might be ok with Kobe.

In any case the Raptors between now and the deadline will interesting to keep an eye on. If they are all in for this playoff run which all indications point too they should be a buyer and not a seller. Masai Ujiri has clearly had his original plans for the Raptors reconstruction turned upside down. Which includes what to do about Dwane Casey? Watching Casey get his coach of the month award made it hard not to think back to Bryan Colangelo and Sam Mitchell. Colangelo ended up giving Mitchell a new contract after winning an unexpected Atlantic Division title. Casey seems to be heading down a similar path and will that lead Masai to be placed in the same situation as his mentor Colangelo. Hard to think he won’t be as Casey who was taken to woodshed and had people calling for his head with this team’s terrible start to the season. Speed ahead to today Casey is likely a candidate to win coach of the year.

Success for the Raptors has not changed the amount of questions it has only changed many of them. In the short term are the Raptors regressing more to the team they were prior to the Gay trade or is this just a minor point of slippage. Long term the future of many of pieces of this puzzle have uncertain futures. From all the new additions from the Kings to Lowry and Casey they are all people that Masai Ujiri will need to make decisions on this off season.

The Raptors success in the playoffs might not be as great as their regular season success to this point. Their style of offence and being so dependant on three point shot may not be as easy to function under the more intense defensive attacks in the post season. Raptors have really not been able to know when to knock it off when it isn’t working. The three point shot is a weapon that you need to know when and when not to use it. Something the Raptors have failed to understand at times in these games they are struggling.

The Raptors need to get back driving the ball and getting to the foul line. That is another thing that is impacted on by the over use of the three point shot.

There are no answers at the moment for the short or long term for the Raptors. No one can deny it is more entertaining than tanking. Even if tanking could have been considered a viable option no one is going to claim it is fun or all that interesting.


Bump In Raptors Road To Taking Over The World?

Toronto Raptors have finally hit a point of some adversity in this post Rudy Gay run they have been on. They had an effort that was to say the least lethargic in Boston. The Celtics were in the midst of a 9 game losing streak and showed more desire to win. It seems amusing to me that this effort came after I wrote a blog on the Raptors changing their identity and was taking advantage of their weaker opposition.

Tonight the Raptors get a chance to rebound at home against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Rebound might have been a good choice of words as battling on the glass will be vital to any success the Raptors hope to have against Minnesota.

The T-Wolves are having a season that has been typical of their existence of late being 18-20 and 5-5 in their last 10 games. Which if they were in the East would have them firmly in the playoffs. In the West that is good enough to have a lottery ticket that could land you a very nice prospect.

T-Wolves typical of most teams with that kind of record are only 7-12 on the road while the Raptors have been struggling to establish a home court advantage that is not Drake based. Just 9-8 at home after a win over Brooklyn as they enter play this evening.

It was a terrible night for the Raptors front court in Boston as none of the Raptors big men had a particularly strong performance. That can not be the case tonight against Minnesota or the result will not be a favourable one overall.

The Raptors have no doubt been adjusting to life with expectations and perhaps been a little bit caught up in what they have been able to accomplish. The key to their success has been the solid teamwork they have had on both ends of the floor and they need to get back to that tonight in short order.

The Raptors have built a little bit of room for error by there strong play in the last month and half but not so much that they can afford a prolonged losing streak in games where they are the deserving favourite.

A trend that was fairly un-noticed with their strong play of late has been somewhat slow and lacklustre starts. A sign they are on the right path would be a good opening six minutes tonight against Minnesota. The key in beating lesser talented teams is to get on them early and eventually they will accept their fate and fold in many cases. The Raptors can not always count on their ability to fight back to be successful. It is a great quality in games where they are the underdog and a quality that against lesser teams can allow them to win games that they perhaps have not brought their “A” game to the table.

However the quicker you get off the blocks the easier night overall it can be. The Raptors still have a lot of growing to do and need to learn what it is like to be the team that is being hunted rather than the plucky loveable loser that has been their prior identity.

Will see what happens tonight and if what we saw in Boston was an anomaly or a sign of true regression. It has been a long time since the Raptors have lost a game that people expected them to win. How they respond is the biggest storyline heading into this game.


Raptors Feasting On The Weak.

The Toronto Raptors are proving they deserve to be judged by a new standard based on how they have played since the Rudy Gay trade. They honestly are doing the things that playoff teams do on a nightly basis. The Raptors looked pretty awful by any standards starting out against the league worst Milwaukee Bucks. It didn’t take long for them to break out of that funk. After a slow start they were dominating by the end of the first quarter. They would also slow down in the third only to see them storm back and in the end destroy the less talented opposition.

Much is made about how the Raptors offensive attack has improved since the trade. It is obvious to even the most casual fan how they have done it. Based on improved ball movement and passing up on the good shot to get the great shot. It has been amazing to watch how truly lethal this offensive attack has become. It is even more evident when they play teams that have a lesser talent level than they have.

What is far harder to figure out is how exactly the exit of Rudy Gay has improved their play on the defensive end of the floor. I would not class any of the players they acquired as great defenders. They did not come from a team that is known for a defensive mentality in the Kings either. What they have done is given the Raptors a much more talented second unit. This is helpful and does give Dwane Casey some realistic options if he feels his starters are not getting the job done defensively.

Ross who started this season as a defensive liability in far less minutes has become a better defender with more minutes coming his way as a starter. That doesn’t seem to make much sense on the surface. It does seem that Ross has more confidence to take chances and not fear it will get him yanked off the floor. He has been able to do a better than average job against some top players on opposing sides. While his offensive game has been on a role it is his improvement on the defensive end that affords the Raptors the ability to leave him out there.

This dramatic transformation can not be just pinned on one player though. It has been a team effort that has been able to transform things. The Raptors have done a great job rebounding has a team from pretty much ever position on the floor. The one thing the Raptors had struggled with since the arrival of Dwane Casey is closing out possessions. There are far fewer examples of the Raptors playing well on the defensive end and not finishing it off with a defensive rebound. The Raptors also seem to be gambling more on the defensive end with a ton of confidence that if they do that the rotation and fellow player will be there to have their back. Close outs have been far better on team’s that rely on the three pointer.

It isn’t one thing it is a bunch of little things that are getting the job done. Another one of those little things is people challenging shots. It sometimes doesn’t result in blocks but you do notice the Raptors big men making more attempts to strongly contest shots in the paint.

Before a re-match with the Bucks the Raptors get another divisional opponent to face tonight in the Celtics. This will be the second and final visit for Boston to Toronto on the season. Raptors did a solid job getting the win on opening night with a very different team. As the Raptors have been trending up the Boston Celtics who once looked like they might be a surprise are looking more like many expected. They are 1-9 in their last 10 and after leading the Atlantic Division now sit fourth with a 13-26 record only percentage points out of last currently held down by Philadelphia.

These are games in the past you would be concerned for the Raptors. Playing a team that everyone expects them to beat has never been a guarantee of success in the past. This Raptors team seems to thrive on beating down the lesser competition. After having to fight and survive a brutal schedule to close out 2013 they now see a lot of teams that are not on their level. To this point with few exceptions that Raptors are thriving on that chance to create some distance from the pack in both the Division and the Conference. The Raptors are now sitting in third in the East with an 8-2 record in their last 10 games.

This team is doing some things that even the best Raptors teams have struggled to do. While their record is still suffering from their brutal start to the season they are starting to make some ground from being considered just a five hundred team. They are playing far better than that. They are still not making the Pacers or Heat sweat about being knocked off by them in the playoffs. They are however establishing themselves as the third best team in the Eastern Conference. Something heading into this season seemed pretty unimaginable to say the least.


Raptors Avoided Regression and Embarrassment Against The Nets

The Raptors avoided what would have been a critical loss along with the embarrassment of it being on this overly hyped Drake Night. The Raptors at points looked like the team that struggled with Rudy Gay to start the season Brooklyn is still far from 100 percent in terms of their roster health but had been finding ways to win of late. Their last lost prior to Saturday was against the San Antonio Spurs back on New Year’s Eve.

The Raptors were sloppy and turning over the ball while struggling to find the ball movement that has sparked their offensive attack in this change of fortune for the team this season. A couple of back to back baskets by DeMar DeRozan late in the third seemed to be the catalyst to a comeback run that Raptors would ride all the way to an easy win. At times it looked pretty bleak earlier in the third with the Raptors down double digits to the Nets.

With the victory the Raptors now move 4 full games in front in the Atlantic Division and appear to have things well in hand despite improvement from both the Knicks and Nets of late. New York knocked off Miami on Thursday in a surprising result but they as a result of losing the home and home match-up with Toronto have to win both of the remaining contests just to earn a split. While the Raptors and Nets have each one a game with a couple left to play in their season series.

Drake might have got more mentions on this broadcast than the Raptors individually. He did the pre-game introductions, was on the broadcast for play by play which was more PR for why Drake loves the Raptors and he was on Camera a ton in case you forgot he was there.

He comes off as wanted what is best for the Raptors and I don’t doubt he does. I also don’t doubt he is most concerned with how Drake comes off to everyone than anything. I think he has honest intentions but I also think he has a clear agenda for himself as well. But if you liked all this nonsense based on the result in terms of both the game and ticket sales it seems likely this will happen again.

In fact the Raptors have even tried to attach Drake to their latest fan zone gimmick calling it the Drake 416 Zone. In the past Raptors use to have a Young Onez Zone and other names attached to it. So it is more the re-branding of an old and honestly stale idea.

Basketball wise the Raptors have not looked as good as when this roll started. They are showing some signs of regression non-larger than Saturday. The question is... are the Raptors aware of this and re-acting to it as far as the players go. It is very easy to get caught up in the hype of a winning streak.

If the Raptors are every going to be cocky and overlook someone the Milwaukee Bucks would be a prime Candidate. They in an Eastern Conference that has been completely brutal have managed to standout as the worst of all. Not an easy accomplishment in the pathetic Eastern Conference. Andrew Wiggins as a Buck is a real fear if you believe the NBA Lottery is on the level.

Raptors started from the bottom and they are here seems almost to cliché to say. However it may end up making a hack of a theme for what has happened this season. I wonder if they can get the rights to that song?  Without paying I mean….Maybe.


Rethinking The Drake

At the start of the season when the Raptors announced Drake as their global ambassador I was on hand. While it never really seemed clear what that meant at the time I saw it as a move that could possibly help and at worst couldn’t hurt anything. A few months into this whole thing I am starting to change my mind on the whole issue.

I think it might just have been a bad idea after all. Drake at the end of the day may just be out for Drake. Imagine that a guy in the Rap business being out for his own interests, what a shocking and unusual concept that is. I mean this whole thing of a Drake night seems pretty damn silly to begin with. Ironically enough against the Brooklyn Nets who were tied to some guy named Jay-Z at one time weren’t they? This is just a happy coincidence I am sure that Drake night happens to be against this team.

While the Raptors have done totally stupid promotion nights before including bringing back rap acts from the past such as Vanilla Ice, Rob Base and Toronto own Fresh Wes this is on a different level. Drake is influencing the Raptors re-branding that is set to take place in line with their twentieth season in the league. The rumours of black and gold Raptors does not exactly instill confidence in me. 

Let me say that I have little issue with Drake in fact of musicians today he is one of the very few that I actually don’t mind.  I did know he wasn’t Dre unlike Jack Armstrong a few years back when seeing him at a Raptors event.

I do see this more as being Drake extending this idea of him being this Toronto breed product that has always been part of his package he is selling. He is in my view just using the Raptors to expand on that. It also as mentioned seems to be the latest cool status symbol in Rap music to be involved with management of a sports team.

Keep in mind Drake was the same guy that got denied being able to go in the Miami Heat locker room to celebrate with his buddy Lebron James. He might have also said what’s up to Chris Bosh if Bosh was so fortunate. Sure he has been to Raptor games prior to this season and let’s face it the Raptors have not given Drake or any of us much to be proud of in the last five years. Still this all seems like more PR hype than substance for me on the part of Drake.

The obvious question is how a large company like MLSE could be part of this whole thing. They have to be at least a little concerned about this don’t they? Maybe they see Drake as being able to do something that they are not able to do or understand. Which is what is cool and hip for a generation of young people that the folks at MLSE are desperate to have embrace the Raptors. Perhaps in that desperation they lost sight of the fact the Drake may have his own agenda in this.

It all feels like that Sienfeld episode in which Jerry and the gang all started out loving The Drake but by the end of the episode the hated The Drake. If we end up with black and gold Raptors and get Drake jammed down are throats more than his Sprite ad or Andrea Bargnani’s Primo Pasta ad than I to may end up Hating the Drake.


Raptors Look To Bounce Back Against The Pistons

Not much to say about the game last night versus the Pacers it was what it was to a great extent. When you combine the fact that Raptors opened 2014 surprising the Pacers and stealing a win with the Raptors travel woes getting to Indy there was not much of a surprise in the result. Many folks were not all that impressed with the broadcast of the game last night that seemed to harp on the Raptors travel issues as the reason for what was being seen on the television screen. It is hard sell that being stuck in Miami as this great hardship that the team had to endure. In reality it likely was with the Raptors having about 4 different attempts to get to Indy for the game only to have them cancelled. Still when most of the country is living on the planet Hoth more or less the last few days it is a tough sell.

The road weary Raptors return home to find an opponent that most everyone expects them to beat. The Raptors with all of this winning they have been doing are now dealing with something this team has not had to face perhaps since Chris Bosh left. Expectations of people that are not based in some fairy tale of just being a fan of the team but in some solid based of reality in facts and evidence of success. 

The Pistons believe it or not would make the post-season with a less than impressive 14-21 mark good enough for eighth place in the well documented terrible Eastern Conference. After a couple seasons ago, going all in on former Raptor Charlie V and former sixth man of the year Ben Gordon with big contracts the Pistons have paid for those bad choices. They once again rolled the dice this year getting long time Hawks underachiever Josh Smith and the polarizing Brandon Jennings from the Bucks. Jennings is a guy that seems to drive the new wave analytics crowd crazy. He is by their standards exactly what you don’t want in an NBA point guard.

I have always been curious about Jennings and wondered how he would fair as a Raptor with his good friend DeMar DeRozan as a duo. I always thought the pair might be able to create some magic together and lift each other up to be better versions of themselves.

The Raptors only worries about their point guard are how they plan to keep him after this season. Kyle Lowry is earning himself money, on this crazy run he is having with the Raptors of late, you have to conclude. It is very much like the first three or four games he joined the team before being sidelined with an injury. He has been healthy this season though and all systems go.

In fact the one thing that is talked about the least in this Raptors season turnaround is how healthy they have been as a group. Tyler Hansbrough has had his issues being in and out of the line-up but aside from him this has been (knock on wood) a fairly injury free season for the Raptors. I saw a graphic on a broadcast a couple games back of man games lost in the last four years for the Raptors which painted a picture of why they have struggled beyond anything else. You can debate the amount of talent they have had, but it has never been all that deep and when you are losing close to 200 man games to injury and in one year close to 250, there is no question you are likely to be bad.

Andrea Bargnani was one of the ones that helped keep that number so high. Regardless of the debate over his talent when he was missing games no one can argue that talent was doing nothing. Despite one of my wrestling heroes saying “luck is for losers,” you do need to luck or good fortune to remain healthy to be able to compete.

That is one thing the Raptors have been fortunate about with DeMar DeRozan and his development he has been the definition of durability in his time with the Raptors.  I have not voted for a Raptor to make the All-Star team since Chris Bosh left town. DeMar DeRozan earned my vote this season and it is a credit to his development and durability. A lot has been made of the fact he has had over 50+ players playing along side him in his Raptors’ career. The only familiar face he sees when he looks around the Raptors locker room is Amir Johnson.  Unlike Johnson who in his early career had a chance to be a around a championship group of Pistons, that has not been the case for DeRozan. It is hard to grow into a leader with the constant changing of faces around you. Earning the respect of people takes time after all. Finally DeRozan has seemed to break through in that respect and earned the respect of the guys in his locker room and is starting to get it more and more in other locker rooms around the league.

The Raptors have a stretch of games now where they can really show off their improvement and build a huge gap between them and the pack of pretenders in both their Division and the Conference. It was great to see them go toe to toe with Miami and almost win. It was even better to see them split a pair of games with the Pacers. It will mean very little if they do not continue that level of performance as the competition they face goes down in class. This is a really important few weeks for the Raptors despite playing a lot of teams that do not exactly look like they can compete on the same level.

So tonight’s game against Detroit, while the Raptors likely are tired and frustrated from off the court challenges provided by Mother Nature, will tell us a lot about this group and their desire to win.  When you have expectations you can no longer be afforded excuses. It has been five plus years of creating narratives about side bar issues surrounding this club. It is now back to sports in its purest form again which is did you win or did you lose?  This in some sense is a victory in and of itself.


Raptors Cement They Are For Real In A Loss To Miami

If any of you were holding out and not a believer yet in to Toronto Raptors shocking turnaround they might have provided the most evidence of it ironically in a loss to the Miami Heat. The Raptors had already played Miami twice at home with their old roster and surprising to no one were not even close to being competitive with Miami. As snow fell outside for most folks in Ontario down in South Beach the Raptors were making some noise against the two time NBA Champions.

Miami came out guns a blazing looking to make an example of the upstart Raptors. Maybe a sign of the Raptors gaining some respect around the league Miami would play their full roster complete with Dwyane Wade. He was playing for the first time this season in the second half of a back to back for Miami. He and James hooked up for an alley-oop to get Miami off to there hot start.

But by the end of the first quarter the Raptors had fought back and were trading blows with the defending champions. A couple of things were clear by the end of the first quarter. The Raptors were not just in this game to show up. The Raptors based on their play of late believed they had a chance to shock the world and beat Miami. DeMar DeRozan started this game trading shots with the best player in the game today. The other thing that was clear in not DeRozan or Ross had much of a hope in guarding Lebron. That said the Raptors managed to fight the first round to a 29-29 draw.

The Raptors would continue to battle and narrowly lose the second quarter despite poking their nose out in front a few times. It was up for debate on who would lead this game going into the half. In the end it would be Miami with a slim one point advantage.

What you would likely expect is the Heat to storm out of the halftime break and put the plucky Raptors away. Instead the exact opposite happened and it was the Raptors building an eight point advantage about 4 minutes into the second half. The Raptors in the end would hold on for a four point lead on the strength of a 33 point third quarter.

I found myself as this game went on being far less concerned with the outcome and if the Raptors could hang on. I was just flat out entertained by this contest and it was likely the most entertaining game I can recall since dating back to the Vince Carter Era.

Yes, Chris Bosh never was as exciting as this was and he wasn’t for a large part of this game dealing with foul trouble and remained scoreless into the third quarter. Bosh in the end of it all was 2-9 and had just 8 points against the team he once led and called his team. This was now DeMar DeRozan’s team but he was having his issues in the second half after being lights out in the first half.

It has been a team effort that had been powering this resurgence though. It would be that which would keep the Raptors hanging around. Amir Johnson was bringing his energy into the fold as he and Jonas Valanciunas both chipped in with 17. Kyle Lowry struggled to score in this game with just 14 but did have 9 assists to keep the ball moving around. In the end it would come down to Lowry getting a fairly good look at three to try to tie the game but failed to hit it as the Heat had an 11-2 run to start the quarter and were able to hang on to get the win 102-97.

James led his Heat with 30 points but was pushed to bring his “A” game on a night he normally would find himself on bench rooting for the reserves at the end of it. DeRozan managed to get 26 to lead the Raptors game effort to knock off Miami.

Dwane Casey went with a tight seven man rotation for most of the night and Raptors seemed to be running on empty at times in the fourth quarter. It was an effort that was to level we have rarely seen from the Raptors in years. It almost cemented the fact that the Raptors rise to above .500 and the top of the struggling Atlantic Division was no fluke.

The Raptors will spend the night in Miami as they are unable to fly out for a re-match with the Pacers who they beat on their home floor. Snow in Indy has shutdown the airport and left the Raptors stranded in Miami which is not a bad place to be stuck.

I had many people on Twitter commenting that I had changed and I was no longer a negative Nancy. Maybe I had made some New Year’s Resolution to be more positive. Sorry to break the news to you all but that was not a resolution I have had made. I have always been a realist and remain one. I still worry if the Raptors can keep this thing together beyond this season. Kyle Lowry and his future with the team now replaces the narrative of tanking for Wiggins. Those days are done and it is now about what this group can do and if Masai Ujiri can hold it together in the long run. You see I haven’t changed what has changed is our Toronto Raptors.

I am happy for two guys more than anyone else in all of this. DeMar DeRozan and Amir Johnson were kind of left holding the bag when Chris Bosh decided to take his talents to South Beach. They have had to endure all the losing and hard times that have followed. Now they are part of an exciting team that has turned the corner and is winning. You can’t help but feel very happy for both who I have had the privilege of getting to talk to and know throughout those tough times.

I wonder too what Chris Bosh thinks of all of this. You can’t argue that he never had a team as deep and talented a supporting cast as the one DeRozan now enjoys. Hey maybe the old expression of good things coming to good people could be true after all.

Most Raptors fans are great people as well as I have had the good fortune to learn over the time of doing this blog. We all have a team that we can be proud of and gives us the entertainment and effort that fans of this team have so rightfully deserved.


Raptors Are Fun To Watch Again: Believe It

The Raptors are fun to watch again. It has been a long time coming but this team is entertaining and playing basketball the right way. It has been a transformation from a team that started the season playing like individuals and thanks to the removal of one individual it seems like everything has changed.

This was once again on full display in Washington last night as the Raptors took on another surprising team this season in the somewhat improved Wizards. These new look Raptors make you question all the things you just accepted as being typical traits of the Raptors.

In terms of the offensive side of things it is all about the passing and it has made the Raptors a tough team to game plan for the teams they face. While DeMar DeRozan is the first option and the Raptors best talent his supporting cast of characters can be almost anyone on a given night.

Kyle Lowry has done an exceptional job of running the show and knowing when he is needed to score but at the core is the guy running the show distributing the ball. Terrence Ross with more minutes has had just an amazing turnaround. He is a legit scoring threat more nights than he is not. His much talked about struggles on the defensive end have been far less. If trouble happens in that area John Salmons has been a defensive stopper.

The improved ball movement and more use of pick and roll ball has helped the bigs become more engaged in the entire process. Jonas and Amir Johnson have been better on both ends of the floor. Patrick Patterson has also become part of this rotation and has proven to be effective coming off the bench. Last night the Raptors had to go without Tyler Hansbrough and he was barely missed as Patterson led the bench with 18 points. He was one of five players in double figures for the Raptors.

The Raptors got up big in this basketball game in the third quarter by 20 points on the Wizards and unlike teams of the past the Raptors managed that lead well and were able to find their way to the finish line with a win.

One of the things that have been a major issue with this team even dating back to when Chris Bosh was a part of this roster was accountability. It always seemed to be lacking and with that it made the Raptors a team easy to break down. If things went wrong for the Raptors fingers pointed in every direction accept to the person in the mirror.

Now there seems to be a direct accountability and if you fail to perform not just Dwane Casey but the other 4 guys on the floor are going to let you know about it. It is really about the team first and the individuals second. At some point this team will face some adversity and it will be interesting to see if this group responds to that challenge.

The educated guess is they will because of the way they are managing their way through games. In those short term times of adversity this team is responding.

Many times I have heard guys in the Raptors locker room say they are capable of beating any team in this league. You almost had to roll your eyes at that suggestion in the past. Now you can honestly believe that to be true. Not that it matters what we think but as far as what they think it is a realistic statement.

I think when you get to a playoff situation that will not be the case in a drawn out 7 game series. In fact things should get tougher for the Raptors as their streak of great play has caught the attention of the national media in the United States. Teams are starting to learn there is a new Raptors team that is not the same as the one we all knew.

The Wizards learned that lesson having their home fans that bothered to show up boo them off the floor after a time out with Raptors up by 20 points. The element of surprise will be soon gone for the Raptors. Miami might be the best test of this theory, which they play next. In the past Miami would almost play with the Raptors like a cat with a rubber mouse. It might not be the case anymore. The Raptors are earning that all important word in life: Respect.
Which if you noticed is coming from officials of late as well. Maybe there was no bias against a Canadian team after all. Maybe it was just the regular average bias that happens to bad teams in this league regardless of location.

Raptors have won 5 in a row now thanks to a fairly easy 101-88 win over the Wizards. The Raptors are on a roll and even if that roll hit’s a bump in the road with Miami and re-match with Pacers on their home floor it still is likely to continue. The fundamentals of why this is happening have a strong foundation that leads you to believe this can last. This just might be who the Raptors have become. It will take some time to buy in and believe for long suffering fans that have become really jaded. Trust once lost is hard to get back but this team more than any in a long-time might just earn that trust.

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The Rudy Gay Effect

The Raptors feel like the girlfriend that cheated on you that wants you back. I mean after all the pain you have had to endure as a fan of this franchise it is hard to trust them again. Will Kyle Lowry be the latest in a long line of people that have left us disappointed and feeling like we are not good enough some how?

If you are one of those people that can live in the moment and not remember the past or worry about the future you can truly enjoy what is happening with the Raptors right now. It has reached the point you can no longer consider what the Raptors have done since the Rudy Gay trade just some sort of fluke.

A win over the best team record wise in the NBA was the latest point of proof this group of Raptors offered to the world. The Pacers are a legit team and perhaps the largest roadblock to Miami winning a third straight NBA Championship. Paul George and Roy Hibbert are now considered legit superstars in this league.

The reality of folks dreaming for a Cinderella like story of Andrew Wiggins coming to the Raptors and being the franchise Savior is all but dead. According to statistical analysis that ESPN provides the Raptors are a 99% lock to make the NBA Playoffs in the terrible Eastern Conference.

While I have been one of the people that think the Raptors getting Wiggins would have been a franchise altering event it is clear to see that day is not coming in the short term for this franchise. What I have always said is the simple fact that the players that make up this roster and Dwane Casey had no interest in losing and always had the goal of winning.

The Rudy Gay trade to the Kings has had an impact that has been more than any trade I can recall in recent memory in any sport. It is not just about what the Raptors got rid of or what they acquired completely. In that regard what they got rid of was a clear anchor to their offensive success and in return they added a group of players that has given them a legit second unit.

It has had a significant impact on many of the remaining Raptors as well in addition to this. The Raptors struggled with ball movement prior to Gay being moved and now they have excellent movement of the ball. They now have a free flowing offensive attack and with addition of Greivois Vasquez bringing back the pick and roll play the Raptors lost in acquiring Gay.

This has led to more inspired play and a greater offensive contribution from both Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas. That contribution has made them more energized and excited and carried over to defensive end of the floor as well.

Kyle Lowry who may very well have been the only player that misses Rudy Gay still has been playing at the elite level he did when he first arrived with the Raptors. He would be injured and never really got back to that level until recently.

Terrence Ross who was struggling to see time on the floor has suddenly been thrown into the fire with more minutes and is producing on the offensive end of the floor at the best rate of his young career. When he struggles on the defensive end Dwane Casey has been able to plug in a veteran like John Solomons to close the gaps when the game is on the line. Ross is given a longer window to prove himself on a night in and night out basis. While I have been highly critical of Ross it would be foolish to suggest he has not answered the bell since the Gay trade.

Perhaps the biggest thing of all has been the impact on DeMar DeRozan from all of this. He was a huge defender of the fact he and Rudy could make an effective duo for the Raptors. The truth be told when Gay was acquired he was considered the better of the two players. The reality of things is since that time I would venture to say that DeRozan has passed him and is the better and more consistent player.

In addition DeRozan seems ready to take on the role as the number one option for a team something he has not been in the past. His confidence in being able to make long range shots has allowed him to have more success in making that shot. It in addition has opened up his game to a whole different level. His steady improvement as passer and playmaker has also made him a far more effective number one option in comparison to Gay.

The most rewarding thing of all for someone that has been here since he was drafted and first talked with him as a rookie in Ottawa is that he is a true leader. You see how much this young man has been made sick of losing and he now has started to figure out what he can do to stop it.

DeRozan has always worked hard but he now is not just working hard but playing smarter and having a greater understanding of the game and his role in it. The fact he has become a father seems to have matured him and settled him off the floor as well. All his fire, passion and frustration seems to be much more under control. I have always seen DeRozan as a player with some deep down anger in him that when he is able to channel it correctly can make him highly effective. DeRozan is not a bad person in any sense the exact opposite but on the floor I see a different guy that has a lot of fire and aggression in his game.

The Raptors for the moment have captured lighting in a bottle. If they are able to keep it beyond this season is a real question but as for this season they have more than stated their claim to what they are capable of doing.

The Challenge for Masai Ujiri is to do what Glen Grunwald and Bryan Colangelo failed to do in keeping that together for a long period of time. The reality is the Eastern Conference can not possibly get much worse than it is this season. Can Masai keep the Raptors growth to the same level that the Eastern Conference is going to improve? His acquiring draft picks for Andrea Bargnani is something that could help in that regard. In general though he needs to make Toronto something it has never really been as a viable destination to come play basketball with a group that is growing and building towards being a contender.

Grunwald and Colangelo failed at this badly. If Ujiri can re-sign Lowry that would be the simplest answer to many to solve the problem moving forward for the Raptors future.    It may not be the only answer if he could find someone to plug in that position. The fact the Raptors now have a one-two punch at point guard has been a big difference resulting from the Gay trade. Heading into next season they need that combination to maintain success. Vasquez will also be a RFA heading into the off-season.

The Raptors from the very beginning have been a team that has been a franchise that has been as good as their point guard position has allowed them to be. It will remain to be a key to their future going forward.

For now a lot of Raptors fans just want to enjoy the moment and quite honestly with all this fan base has endured you can understand that. Losing sucks and winning is fun it really is that simple. Even people that support tanking are not truly gleeful at losing as they often get portrayed. They come to a realization or a hope that enduring the pain of losing in the short term will be rewarded with a more secure and winning future. Everyone wants a team that can not only win now but win in the future and improve to win more.

The Raptors have proven that they are at least good enough to compete in the winning now part of equation. For a lot of long suffering Raptors fans that is enough for now.