Raptors flying under the radar in off-season coverage

TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 24: Norman Powell
TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 24: Norman Powell /

If you’re looking to find the Raptors listed as contenders by high-profile publications, don’t bother. That’s OK; the players can use the lack of respect as motivation.

Scouring the NBA media for reference to the Toronto Raptors is an all but hopeless task.

Have you seen the Christmas games list? You can watch losing teams like the Knicks, 76ers T’Wolves and Lakers, but not our guys. The same applies to the opening week of national (in this context, “national” means the U.S.) games.

As for the NBA’s website: in a piece on emerging teams, the Celtics, Bucks, and 76ers are mentioned as Eastern Conference successors to the Cavaliers. OK then.

TORONTO, ON – MAY 07: Kyrie Irving
TORONTO, ON – MAY 07: Kyrie Irving /

ESPN weighs in with their prediction of the Eastern winner. Their panel mostly likes Cleveland, of course, though a minority likes Boston and Washington.

I don’t know if any of this un-attention matters to the Raptors, though I suspect it bugs them somewhat. What’s more important to the issue of winning, though, is how such extreme oversight is managed.

Make it work for you

I’m skeptical by nature, but I’ve seen enough evidence of the power of team bonding in these circumstances to believe in it. A skilfully delivered speech from a respected veteran about how “nobody believes in us but us” can have a strongly positive effect.

One of my self-appointed tasks consists of reminding readers that a basketball team is not a collection of statistics. We aren’t watching NBA2K at the Air Canada Centre, but a group of human beings who hopefully like each other and want to win for the group, not for themselves.

There are many reasons why I like the job Masai Ujiri is doing as team President. One of the most important decisions he made early on was to not compromise on his players’ personalities. If someone has a reputation as a trouble-maker, he’s not likely to be a Raptor.

For example, if the Raptors had somehow managed to win the #1 pick this summer, they likely would have chosen Markelle Fultz. He comes without baggage, whereas Lonzo Ball has an egomaniac for a father. Who needs that circus?

Masai has already bailed from the Kyrie Irving trade talks. I’m sure his reasoning was something like “What if Irving decided he didn’t like being a Raptor, and demanded a trade? If he wasn’t happy playing with LeBron, who can he be happy with? We’re out.”

When I’m contemplating a Trade Proposal, my first concern isn’t whether the other team’s Freddie McBuckets can play. I want to know if he’ll fit in our dressing room, because if he won’t, I stop writing.

There’s the fuel you need, Raptors players. A healthy dose of “we’re going to prove everyone wrong” plus selfless individuals pulling for each other, could provide the emotional tonic needed to take this group a long way.

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