The Toronto Raptors are back. Finally, it seemed like the playoff drought had lasted forever. For the first time in a long time I can say, I am excited for this upcoming Raptors season. After a disappointing yet, oddly rewarding playoff run, The Raptors are looking to capitalize on what was a solid year last year. Can you blame them? Setting a franchise record for wins with a 48, this team can only grow better. Here are five reasons why there will be a new franchise record for wins in the T-dot.
Let’s just get right down to it. They’re in the East. Being a fan of a team in the Eastern Conference is one of the finer things in my life. When my team loses I don’t get scared. I don’t worry about where my team is now seeded. It’s the east, and Toronto will reap the benefits of a weaker conference (and an even weaker division) for all that they are worth. Everything from seeds 3-8 are wide open every year almost guaranteeing a spot for any team that’s remotely mediocre. That’s why The Nets will probably sneak in at some point too (sorry). The Raptors can compete with any team in The East. With their gritty isolation style of offence and underrated defense, The Raps force you into playing their style. Boy does it work too.
Kyle Lowry’s journey with the Raptors was almost a little fairy-tale like. Lowry was brought in to be the hero Toronto needed and deserved. He was off to a bad start in his first year and I like many Raptor fans, had given up. I knew not what to expect of him last season, which made the surprise a little bit sweeter. He exploded. For the first time in a long time every Raptor looked as though they wanted to be there. Kyle Lowry’s defense and hustle was a sight to sore eyes. He brought together a team that needed bringing together. Lowry is the little engine that could. A triple double threat every time he laces up, I can’t name a thing he doesn’t do well on the court and he is most certainly bound for another big year. The lucrative four year deal the Raptors gave him has been the first sense of comfort he’s ever had. He lived on the rumor mill most of his career in Houston and even with The Raptors. Thankfully, he can fall asleep without fear of a trade in the morning.
The pre-Ujiri era never offered Toronto consistency come draft day, but former Raptors GM Brian Colangelo deserves some credit for selecting the future of the team. Now I must admit, I despise Colangelo and his decisions. Mainly Bargnani and Arujo, but Jonas Valenciunas and Terrence Ross have been excelling with Toronto. Another confession, I was outraged by BOTH picks. When Kemba Walker hadn’t been selected come 5th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft I was up in arms. After his comments on how he would love to be a Raptor, I thought the choice was obvious. Those thoughts were almost immediately followed by, who the hell is Jonas Valenciunas? Another European bigman who won’t even play the year he was drafted. At that point, I wanted Colangelo’s head on a stake. I’ve never owned up to a mistake quicker in my life. I am in love with a 6’11 Lithuanian man and I’ve never been happier. He understands how to use his length and mobility to do countless things on both sides of the ball. He’s also spent time with Hakeem Olajuwon this summer in an attempt to improve his post skills. Jonas is a star in the making and it is only time before they all align for him.
DeMar DeRozan was worth the wait. Entering his 6th season in the NBA DeRozan is coming off of a breakout year for him. People often wondered if DeMar could ever take the next step in his career. Averaging only 17.3 ppg over the past three seasons, a lot of people had begun to believe that DeMar had reached his limit. That he had hit his ceiling. That was simply not the case. DeRozan’s 2013-14 season was a career year for him averaging 22.7 points and pushing The Raptors back into the playoffs for the first time since 2008. As long as the bloom, I don’t mind them being a little late. DeRozan arrived at the perfect time, when we needed him. The first time all-star is poised for another big year and Raptor fans expect one.
The Raptors might have the best bench in the NBA. Led by the likes of (general) Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson, Tyler Hansbourough, and new acquisitions such as James Johnson and Louis Williams. Each member of the bench offers something completely different from the other, and will be a key part of any success The Raptors have in the near future. Being able to rest players and still get high amounts of production is an incredible luxury to have considering the grind that is the 82 game NBA season. It makes The Raptors incredibly flexible and harder to deal with. James Johnson offers something Toronto was in dire need of in their playoff series against the nets, someone that can defend bigger guards. Joe Johnson shrugged off everyone who tried to guard him and it hurt The Raptors significantly. That is not so much of a problem anymore. Sweet Lou Williams offers even more offense coming off of the bench in the backcourt alongside Vasquez. This Raptor team goes 12 deep because they can, and they will.
Don’t get me wrong, Toronto is in no way a perfect team, and Brian Colangelo was not half the GM I made him out to be, but this team is no joke. They play with strength, hustle, and good defense and are smart offensively. Toronto is a contender for a top spot in the east, and for The Atlantic Division crown. The Raptors are now a playoff team and will improve on the success they had last year.