3/29/14

Raptors Return To The Playoffs: A Story Hollywood Would Never Believe

The season started with the Raptors being upstaged by the announcement of Drake as their Global Ambassador and the NBA All-Star Game coming to town in 2016. The expectations of this team were next to nothing. Masai Ujiri many felt was going to gut this roster and look to join the pack of teams looking to cash in on a rich draft class that featured a Canadian Star Andrew Wiggins.

When you consider that was the reality in October the fact we sit at the end of March with the Raptors already having punched their ticket to the playoffs is just too unbelievable for words. What on earth made all of this madness happen? It is always a combination of things for something so unexpected to take place.

The one thing that everyone points too is the trade of Rudy Gay to the Kings after the Raptors had what at the time was an expected poor start. That trade made one of the most unique and fascinating turnarounds in the history of this team take place.  The only thing that rivals it would be the Raptors rallying after Vince Carter went down to injury to make the post season. They won something like 15 of their last 17 games and only made playoffs on the final day of the season.

This Raptor team got on quite the little run after the trade happened. It almost never happened though if you believe the reports that came out a few weeks after the Gay trade. Most saw the Gay trade as not an attempt to transform the Raptors but as the first step to dismantling them. Masai Ujiri was set to make another bold move in that deconstruction with the New York Knicks. The team in the summer he was able to unload Andrea Bargnani on cutting that dead weight from his roster. Bargnani’s lack of success in New York was predictable, but what wasn't was how that would impact on this Raptors season being what it came to be.

The Knicks had a deal on the table to acquire Kyle Lowry who has been the heart and soul of this Raptors turnaround. Knicks ownership was scared of getting burned by Masai Ujiri for a third time. He had got the better of them in the deal for Carmelo Anthony back in Denver. He came to Toronto and gave them the Andrea Bargnani problem to deal with. The Knicks got scared and backed out of the deal that was on the table. Rumour has it that James Dolan himself was the one that said no to this.

Safe to say if that trade happens this magical season would have been over before it started. Ujiri after failing to get that deal done sat back and waited and watched to see what would become of this group. He had given the Raptors some much needed depth with the Gay trade. They added a full group of players that became the Raptors bench more or less. It would also propel Terrence Ross into the starting line-up ready or not. In addition established DeMar DeRozan as the true face of the franchise.

The success the Raptors enjoyed along with the Eastern Conference crumbling all around them saw them rise from the depths of tankers to the line to get in the VIP section of the Eastern Conference. As the season reached the trade deadline with DeMar DeRozan fresh off his first All-Star appearance and Kyle Lowry widely considered the most notable snub not to go to New Orleans things seemed very clear.

The Raptors would roll the dice and bet on Kyle Lowry and being able to keep him as a free agent. This is a gamble not unlike the one the Raptors took with Chris Bosh. That ended in disaster with Bosh being hurt in the first game after the All-Star Break and only returning to be injured again and the Raptors would miss the playoffs finishing ninth.

This story while incomplete has worked out far better in the short term as the Raptors will in fact make the playoffs. The future for Kyle Lowry is the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about right now. Still the first part of the gamble has paid off no one can deny that.

If you are a believer in destiny or fate how the Raptors finally locked up their return to the playoffs for the first time since 2008 seemed perfect as a movie script. The two soul survivors of the post Bosh era DeMar DeRozan and Amir Johnson hit the final two shots to secure the win and return to the playoffs for this franchise. Johnson has embraced this city in a way that few Raptors ever have. While on the floor he has been a warrior to the point of you question his judgment for his old age but not his heart. No one deserved a moment like this more. While DeRozan has constantly had to fight critics that always felt he was good enough to be a true superstar or an All-Star. Despite improving year after year the team around him was not following suit.

That was until this year when finally the Raptors found some chemistry and some fight. You can obviously find some flaws in this rise to where they have gotten too. The Eastern Conference may never have been worse than this year. It doesn’t take away from the pure joy of fans that have suffered along with Johnson and DeRozan wondering if they would ever see a day like Friday happen.

Fans and those guys deserved this moment and regardless of if the Raptors future takes a negative turn as it often has in history that is not the point at the moment. It’s about a story of two guys that survived though times and all the people that supported them and stayed in their corner.

Lots of fake Raptors fans will come out of the woodwork as they often do when a team has success. Those who are the true meaning of the term fan, those fanatics have earned the right to have a moment like this.  Not unlike DeRozan and Johnson have earned it through their work and dedication, not just this season, but in the seasons when this team stunk.

I personally have taken a lot of flack this year. I have to admit I am a bit angry about it. Just because I am not ready to have a parade about this season doesn’t mean I haven’t respected what has been done. I have and it also doesn’t mean I am not happy for the people that have stuck with this team.

I am sorry if I am the one that keeps my head when everyone around me seems to be caught up in the wave of excitement. I still don’t forget the reality of things. This at the end of the day was never the plan and was not suppose to happen. It was the Knicks accepting that trade and it never does. It has been in large part a run that has been driven by Kyle Lowry. He has played with motivation and heart that you have to respect. You also have to realize he has all the personal motivation in the world to do so. He could re-sign but he could walk away and than what did all of this mean in the end? Just another chapter of “what if” in Raptors history like what if Vince and Tracy had stayed together what might have been.  Even if he does stay can he honestly match this season he has put together? I don’t know the answer to that and at the end of the day no one does.

In 19 years this is only the sixth time the Raptors will play in the post season. They have only won one playoff series and it was so long ago it wasn’t even seven games. What I want for all of you, for myself and for this franchise is something that is lasting that can grow and build. The Raptors as crazy excited as you may well be and rightfully so are not a contender in to make the Eastern Conference Final or NBA Finals.

Granted they never were supposed to be. The key is can this lighting in a bottle actually be something that lasts. That is going to be largely riding on the future of Kyle Lowry. He has been the key piece to all of this and will be the key piece to if this is just another blip on the radar where the Raptors tease us all or if it is something more.

People that have supported this team through a ton of terrible and at times insulting seasons deserve a team that can be a consistent playoff participant and a true contender to win a championship. If you’re satisfied with anything less than that I can not get on board with that. I want more and a future that I can believe in. After all at the end of the day sports is all about one simple word at the end of the day.

HOPE

If you have hope everything else comes from that. If you don’t you at the end of the day have nothing.

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