Do the Raptors need a superstar?

The success of the Miami Heat (2 straight NBA championships) and the make-up of their team (3 superstars….well, 2 all together, but paid like 3) plus a bunch of role players, has caused the idea that you can’t win in the NBA without a superstar to be embedded as Holy Writ. While I’m skeptical about (any) Holy Writ, I have to concede there’s a lot of truth in this one. If we scan the last 10 years of champions, the names of LeBron, Kobe and Tim Duncan leap out time and again, and the Bulls won 6 times in the ’90s. They had a guy named Jordan.

Nov 25, 2012; Toronto, ON, Canada; San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan (21) beats Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas (17) to the basket to score at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

What about our Toronto Raptors? Can we win a championship without a superstar? Hell, can we get to the playoffs? The final nail in Bryan Colangelo’s professional coffin was his belief that Rudy Gay is a superstar. As a result, BC overpaid in order to get Rudy on board, in the hope he could push the Raps to the post-season. We all know that plan didn’t work, but Rudy is still here, and is compensated at a top player’s rate without performing like one. I think any notion that Rudy is going to improve sufficiently to step into the ranks of All-Star consideration is a pipe dream. His stats since he became a starter in his second season are astonishingly similar year after year, displaying neither fall-off nor growth. DeMar DeRozan is likewise highly consistent so far in his career. There’s no reason to expect a sudden explosion in performance from him either, unless he dramatically improves his unsightly 3-point shooting percentage.

Can anyone else enter the rarefied air of stardom? While there are a few examples of players whose early years were undistinguished, but who developed into great players later (Steve Nash, Chauncey Billups), most tremendous talents make their presence felt early. Scan the list of NBA Rookies of the Year and you find luminaries like LeBron, MJ, Kevin Durant, Tim Duncan, Bird-Man, Derrick Rose…and, yes, Vince. Or go way back to discover Oscar Robertson, Wilt Chamberlain and the criminally forgotten Dave Bing with their names on the trophy. With that in mind, we take note of Jonas Valanciunas being named to the  All-Rookie Second Team. Is it a reach to suggest he’s already established himself as an up-and-coming talent with stardom in sight? No, it’s not. JV is very young. For a 20-year-old to start 57 NBA games at any spot, let alone centre (the toughest position of all?) is exceedingly rare, and bodes well for the future.

Terrence Ross, the most athletic Raptor I’ve seen since Vince, endured an up and down rookie campaign, and didn’t distinguish himself in Summer League. He’s the only other Raptor with sufficient youth and natural gifts to vault up the stardom ladder, but he’d be well-advised to hurry up. The NBA is a notoriously impatient place.

The Raps are strong enough this season to make the playoffs without anyone emerging as a superstar. Can they be included in the championship conversation without one? No.

***I found this series of detailed posts on the topic of superstars and championships after I published. It’s definitely worth a look.***

Brian Boake is Senior Editor for Raptors Rapture. “Like” Raptors Rapture on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @RaptorsRapture for all the latest news and updates about the best damn NBA team from Canada.

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Topics: Jonas Valanciunas, NBA, Raptors, Rudy Gay, Terrence Ross, Toronto Raptors

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  • Tuneyain

    Great read, your argument is very plausible. My concern as a Raptors fan is that I am sick of the rebuilding process Colangelo put us through but I am excited to see development, growth and teamwork with this new roster. With JV, T-Ross and Acy, I wasn’t worried about a draft pick this summer and I do believe the Raptors are capable of making the play-offs the next couple of seasons. I think that’s what all the fans want, a play-off run. It’s been torture the last 5 years. I really am not concerned with a “superstar” because once Gay’s contract begins to expire, that’s when we’ll aggressively begin to hunt. As for now, I’m happy with seeing a competitive team.

    (Prediction: DeMar 20ppg, Gay 20ppg, JV 15ppg, Lowry 15ppg, and Amir 10ppg.)

    • Newmarket_Brian

      Hi Tuneyain: I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I certainly hear you about the disappointing rebuild Colangelo undertook. It’s simply taken too long. The Raps have not recovered from selecting Bargnani #1 all those years ago. I wish Colangelo had traded the pick, and got back two #1s from his trade partner (assuming there really was one).
      Sadly, our rebuild isn’t over yet. In fact, if the team struggles, I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if Masai blew it up – and we’d have 3 more rebuilding seasons.
      Thanks for commenting.
      P.S. I like your predicted numbers for our starters.

  • AM

    If they do need a superstar, it will have to wait for now or require a trade during the season. I’m fine with playing the season out and seeing how we do with the current roster and then address the needs and salary.

    I don’t think it’s a reach at all to say JV is among the top young players in the league. I think it’s harder to gain the attention at the 5 spot than it is for players of a similar young age at the wings and point. Any GM would love to have him; he’s athletic, tough, can score, soft free throw touch, and overall an eager young man , with experience who just wants to play and win. Hasn’t he been playing against men for longer than most rookies anyway from playing internationally? It really does say something when you’re pretty much the only untouchable (in terms of trade) on the team. If they were to do so, it would require a hefty return to say the least.

    I agree with what you wrote on Ross. He needs a solid season, otherwise I could see them sticking with DeMar or Rudy and using Ross as trade bait. He will, for the next few seasons even, still have the potential to utilize all his abilities and GM’s will take a chance on that (especially with the entertainment aspect of his dunking abilities). DeMar and Rudy on the other-hand, although their contracts are quite debatable, and still struggle in other aspects that Ross excels, are proven to provide a team with points. Their inefficiencies can be attended to through acquiring other players much like Ujiri did this offseason in acquiring one of the best 3pt shooters in the league in Novak and psycho-T for some strength and defensive pestering duties.

    Hopefully Ross comes out strong this year.

    Thanks for the articles. Always nice to read them and keep the Raptor lobe of my brain going through quiet times.

    • Newmarket_Brian

      Hi AM: I’m glad you’re checking in regularly. Readers like you keep me motivated.
      You’re spot-on with everything you wrote about JV, in particular his eager nature. I met him briefly prior to a game last season, & he’s a very upbeat and friendly guy. I suppose no one in sports is untouchable, but he’d be awfully close.
      Here’s hoping the Raps brain trust is patient with Ross. I think he will “get it” about halfway through this season, and push the incumbent swingmen for a starting role. If so, the February trading deadline could be even more interesting that usual. Rudy Gay to a contender???
      Watch for my “In Focus” on psycho-T soon. The “quiet times” are nearly over. I can’t wait for the season to start.
      As always, thanks for commenting.