Try and imagine the history of the Toronto Raptors success as a 3×3 relay race. Vince Carter ran the first leg of the race for Toronto. Let’s just say he got off to a quick start.
Toronto Raptors Evolution Ends with DeMar DeRozan
After six years of downright atrocious basketball that is customary of an expansion team, Vince Carter helped put the Raptors on the NBA map. His athleticism and scoring prowess in only his second season earned league-wide recognition. (Carter put on arguably the best dunk performance of all-time in 2000, and rightly was rewarded with the nickname, “Air Canada”). But it was Carter’s performance in the 2001 playoffs against the Philadelphia 76ers that convinced Raptors fans their savior had finally arrived. In the team’s first playoff run, Carter went toe-to-toe with Allen Iverson in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, eventually losing out in a crushing seven-game series. That was the deepest the Raptors had ever gone in the playoffs and marked the apex of Carter’s time with the team.
Optimism was riding high, but the team didn’t come close to matching its playoff success the next three seasons, prompting Carter to demand a trade.
With Carter in New Jersey, the baton was passed to Chris Bosh, the Raptors fourth overall draft pick in 2003. After a promising rookie season, Bosh became the new franchise player tasked with leading the Raptors back to relevance. During his time in Toronto, Bosh averaged just over 20 points and 9 rebounds per night, helping the Raptors return to the playoffs in the ’06-07 and ’07-08 seasons. He became the first Raptor to reach 10,000 points with the franchise while setting team records for total blocks, rebounds, and double-doubles over his tenure.
After failing to make the playoffs the next two seasons, Bosh, like Carter, grew tired of mounting disappointment. He left the Raptors in 2010 free agency to form a big three with Dwayne Wade and LeBron James in Miami.
Consequently, the second leg of the Raptors relay race finished off with a few stumbles.
The Raptors struggled mightily without Bosh, finishing the ’10-11 and ’11-12 seasons with 22 and 23 wins, respectively. The future looked bleak for Toronto, with no clear-cut franchise cornerstone to succeed Bosh in place.
“Don’t worry, I got us…”
Without a franchise star, DeRozan welcomed the challenge of filling the void left by Bosh. He knew it wouldn’t be easy, but DeRozan believed he could not just lead the Raptors back to relevance. He could morph them into a title contender.
The USC product entered the league as a raw athlete oozing with potential. Luckily, DeRozan never had to compete for minutes after his rookie season, given the team’s need for a starting shooting guard (sorry Sonny Weems). Given the Raptors’ dismal record, DeRozan had the luxury of making mistakes without real consequence. He also got to experience the pain of losing early on, which surely served as motivation going forward.
DeRozan emerged as the Raptors number one scoring option after the failed Rudy Gay experiment ended in 2013. Since then, he hasn’t slowed down. DeRozan has established himself as the team’s go-to scoring option, leading the Raptors to the playoffs each of the last four seasons (the longest such streak in team history).
What Sets DeRozan Apart
While Carter and Bosh left when the going got tough, DeRozan stuck it out. His desire to be the face of the Raptors franchise has never been in question. Even in free agency last summer, with the prospect of playing for his hometown Los Angeles Lakers a realistic possibility, DeRozan decided to remain North of the border in the place he calls his basketball home. In doing so, he’s set a precedent for the Raptors, in terms of a star player remaining with the team. Many players before him left at the first chance they could.
DeRozan was the first piece of the Raptors’ winning culture. He feels a responsibility to both the Raptors franchise and the city of Toronto.
He wants to finish what he started.
The anchor of a race is often the most important, hence why it’s often the responsibility of the fastest runner. For the Raptors, there’s no one better to bring it home than DeRozan.
TORONTO, CANADA – APRIL 16: DeMar DeRozan #10 of the Toronto Raptors makes a move to the basket against Paul George #13 of the Indiana Pacers in Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs on April 16, 2016 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** DeMar DeRozan; Paul George