There’s been plenty of hardship, growing pains, and just plain dreadful moments since the Toronto Raptors last made the playoffs in 2007-2008. Back then it was Sam Mitchell, the team’s all-time winningest head coach, and Chris Bosh the last true superstar Toronto’s been fortunate to corral leading the Dinos. Sweeping changes have been made throughout the organization since their last playoff venture, as to be expected when there’s a six-year postseason drought a franchise is withstanding.
When general manager Masai Ujiri came to Toronto last summer proposed with the challenge of turning a 34-win roster into something better, conventional wisdom suggested things for the Raptors would get worse before they got better. What Ujiri could have done, similar to a politician freshly elected into a new office is radically promote change. In basketball terms, when an organization is making major changes, it typically is associated with tanking due to 3/4ths of the league not being a major market. As the new guy in town, Ujiri easily could have persuaded the Toronto faithful to be patient (as they’ve always been), and watch the tanking process blossom into greener pastures.
Well, funny how Ujiri decided the organization be patient with the talent it had, and not ask the fans to outlast another era of pitiful basketball. Now that the Raptors are in the playoffs, there’s the type of life and energy to the team and the fans that should be a mainstay in any successful organization like, say, oh I don’t know? The San Antonio Spurs? Winning solves more problems, winning makes more money.
Suffice it to say, not many people outside of the Raptors organization were anticipating the type of success the team has had this season. At 42-32 on April 1, this season has exceeded expectations to this point. Kyle Lowry has been a revelation, engineering the offense and defense and playing as well as just about any point guard in a point guard happy league. DeMar DeRozan made his first All-Star team and is pouring in 23.5 a game since the break. Solid contributions from role players like Amir Johnson, Tyler Hansbrough, and Greivis Vasquez must be accounted for too. Especially Johnson, who has been through the thick and thin of the entire playoff drought.
It’s hard for even the most passionate fan to think the Raptors stand a chance in reaching the Eastern Conference Finals, but a first round series victory is in sight. Drawing Washington (as it sits today) would present a potential highly entertaining first round series in the East, where as everyone will be expecting the West to provide all the first round drama.
It’ll be fun to see the direction the Raptors take this summer, though. A late-to-middle first round pick may provide a hidden gem in a draft class billed as top-heavy in talent. Don’t let the big names in the lottery fool you, however. Plenty of talent resides in the later stages of this draft, and Toronto’s most likely upgrades will come through the draft or a trade.
For now, the Raptors can celebrate on their achievement and accomplishments this season. The rebuild was more addition by subtraction, and it worked as well as anyone could have imagined. Getting a young team playoff experience can’t be quantified to a tangible benefit, but it nonetheless remains invaluable. Winning is what the Raptors have been trying to do for 15 years, and maybe they finally found the formula.