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.
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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