A Case For Each Of The Top 4 Raptors Of All-time.
With former Raptors GM Grunwald on Outta the Park this week, and the debate raging on social media as to whom the best Raptor of all time is, I felt compelled to weigh in with my thoughts.
Years before I found a home in the Blue Jays camera bay, I sat courtside, covering the Raptors for The Fan 590 and during my first couple of years at Sportsnet.
When Elliotte Friedman left the Fan to get into TV near the end of the 1996-97 season, I took over the Raptors beat and had a chance to witness some of the highest highs and lowest lows of the franchise.
My first season travelling with the team, I watched all 17 consecutive losses, in what was a 16-66 season. I also watched an 18 year-old Tracy McGrady show glimpses of what he would become.
Following the lockout in 1999, I had the best seat in the house at both Skydome and the brand new Air Canada Centre, as Vincanity was born.
I watched close up, during training camp in 2003, as the very skinny Chris Bosh, the 4th pick overall in a draft that featured LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony, tried to find his place on a veteran NBA team.
Then in 2009, my last year covering the team regularly, I was in LA when 20 year-old DeMar Derozan competed in the Slam Dunk contest and nearly won.
Hard to argue that these have been the 4 more impactful players to put on a Raptors jersey. There have been so many talented players who were there for short stints, or well past their prime. (Hakeem Olajuwon, Chauncey Billups,Mark Jackson to name a few), but any argument begins and ends with these four.
To say who’s the best is not an easy one to answer. All 4 brought certain things to the table that made them, at one time or another, the best player on the team.
So here’s a case for each of them.
Tracy McGrady: The fact he made an impact at all after the way he was treated by coach Darrell Walker, is a testament to the fierceness he had as a player. While his career year came with the Orlando Magic (32.1 PPG), his last 2 seasons in Toronto were outstanding. Unfortunately for him, he had to live in the shadow of VC. I would have loved to have seen what could have happened had the two remained teammates for a few more seasons. Tmac was athletic, fearless, sometimes a bit too laid back, but many of the best will say he was one of the hardest to cover in his prime.
First of all, of the 4 players, Vince was the last I’d expect to see still playing at 40, but there he is, putting up 8ppg with Memphis. To me, Vince was not only the most important player in Raptors history, but for the country of Canada. So many Canadians who have made the NBA, were inspired to play the game because of Vince. His legacy became somewhat tarnished due to injuries, trade demands, and graduation trips, but over his first 4 seasons, he made the Raptors and basketball relevant in Canada. If that shot in Philly had only gone down rather than rimming out, he could have brought a championship to Toronto. I’ve had coaches tell me he could have been so much better had he put more work into his craft. That’s a scary thought.
Before he even played an NBA game, many put unrealistic expectations on Bosh due to the fact Dwyane Wade was drafted right after him. The truth is, Glen Grunwald had been given reports saying that Wade had a lot of medical issues. What he didn’t know was that Wade would play through them for years without flinching. Bosh came at a time when the Raptors were at a crossroads. Carter was on his way out, the team had to play him out of position after trading Antonio Davis, and he was coached by the very unstable Kevin O’Neill. Bosh’s body took a beating night after night, yet he fought through it and put up numbers. While those numbers don’t compare to the others, for a few seasons, he was the only hope the Raptors had of winning.
DeMar Derozan: Of the 4, I’ve seen the least of him live and up close, but I remember his rookie season quite well. After a few years of not knowing which DeMar would show up on any given night, he has now solidified himself as a true leader on the court and in the dressing room. Like Carter, he has a great supporting cast, who’ve have made him better and vice versa. At 28, he still has some great years ahead of him, so the book is remains open on his Raptor legacy. The fact he has spent his entire 9 year career with the Raptors also speaks to his commitment to the organization and the city, which wasn’t the case for the other 3.
So who’s the best?
In my humble opinion, I’m going to say DeRozan, but will add that Carter was the most important, and someone who had the potential to be the best.