A new chapter is almost upon us, but basketball lives on. Who features in the best Toronto Raptors starting lineup of the decade?
A lot can happen in 10 years - in life and in basketball - and the reality in which we know can change instantly or overnight. To start the decade, life as we know it was still revolving around Facebook and the Marvel Cinematic Universe was just beginning to take shape. In the music world, we were about to be treated to one of the greatest albums of all-time: Kanye West's "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy" and CeeLo Green was actually still a thing, and not just an oversized Ferrero Rocher (Google it), oh, and the Toronto Raptors were on the brink of some dark years.
Some very, very dark years. But, in just a few short years, the Raptors would break into some unchartered territory thanks to a new crop of stars, a grizzled head coach, and an absolute genius pulling all of the strings: Masai Ujiri.
First, they had to get through three tough seasons where they combined for 79 wins in 230 games, a lowly winning percentage of 34-percent. In truth, the decade started with the Raptors finishing 40-42 in the 2009-10 NBA season, and Chris Bosh leaving to join the Miami Heat and usher in a period of dominance, but we're trying to create a narrative here.
To summarise: the Toronto Raptors were dreadful to start the decade. But success was only moments away. Since the 2013-14 season, the Raptors have been nothing short of a success story, averaging 53.5 wins per season and breaking their single-season record wins not once, twice, but thrice.
For a large period of time, the Raptors were known purely for their regular-season success. The organisation oozed regular-season stability, but the playoffs were a curse if nothing more. Postseason embarrassment was the agreed-upon norm for the Raptors, and LeBron James was, more often than not, the proprietor to the Raptors' demise.
The history of the Toronto Raptors should be split into two different eras: life before the arrival of Kyle Lowry and life from the moment he stepped foot in Toronto. That was the turning point in the Raptors' success.
Before Lowry, the Raptors' success was modest and the point guards before him were solid, but no one really held a light to Lowry and his impact. Damon Stoudamire was the first-ever draft pick for the Toronto Raptors are impressed in his short time in the North, while Jose Calderon was always consistent - and an incredible human - but Lowry is in a different stratosphere.
There is no other option for the starting point guard position for this decade or any decade for that matter. Only Calderon and Fred VanVleet come close even remotely close to usurping Lowry from the starting spot, but it's not happening.
He's the engine behind the Toronto Raptors sustained period of success and is still finding ways to impress us in his age-33 season. Lowry has put his body on the line for the Raptors every time he steps onto the court, he controls the tempo like no one else and he's still a potent scorer.
While his performances in the postseason have been subject to harsh criticism, Lowry was a leading figure in the Raptors' first-ever NBA championship and put forward a memorable performance in Game 6 of the NBA Finals - the title-clinching game.
Lowry has averaged 17.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, 7.1 assists, and 1.5 steals per game during his Raptors career with a 57-percent true shooting percentage. He should be the unanimous choice for the starting point guard spot. Just think, imagine how things could have turned out if he was traded to the New York Knicks.
One thing is for sure: the Toronto Raptors would not have won a title without Lowry.
It's hard to discuss DeMar DeRozan and not think about the trade that shifted the whole paradigm of the NBA. The Raptors went on to win the title 11 months later and it wouldn't have been possible had Masai Ujiri taken that gamble.
But we have to remember that the Raptors run at the title wouldn't have been possible without DeRozan laying the foundations. As he put himself, somewhat bleakly, he was the sacrificial lamb that catapulted the Raptors into a different trajectory.
With DeRozan as the face of the franchise, there was a clear ceiling for the Raptors. He would never be good enough to take the team on his back and drag them to the NBA Finals, but he would win you games. DeRozan had an estimated 54 win shares during his nine seasons in Toronto - the third most in Raptors history, behind only Lowry and Chris Bosh.
The accolades don't end there with DeRozan. He's the franchise leader in games played, total points, free throws, and total field goals made, among other things, and despite the lack of postseason success, there's no doubt surrounding the importance of DeRozan to, not just the Raptors, but the city of Toronto as a whole.
His re-signing with the Raptors back in 2016 was a big moment in the team's history. It showed that the Raptors had the capability to sign superstar free agents - or better yet, keep them around.
DeRozan laid the foundations for the Raptors title victory, even if he wasn't there to see it play out. The city owes him a debt, and surely his number will be retired after his career is done.
Kawhi Leonard spent only one season in Toronto, but his sole season in Canada may well go down as the best single-season in Toronto Raptors history. Leonard joined the Raptors in July 2018 as a player who many believed might never be able to get back to his best - such was the mystery and potential severity of his injury.
When he left the Raptors one year later, he left as the reigning NBA Finals MVP and the best basketball player on the planet. Leonard's performances throughout the regular season and the playoffs were enough to tip the Raptors over the edge and put them on the path to their first-ever appearance in the NBA Finals.
Leonard averaged 30.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists, and 1.9 steals per game over 24 games in the postseason, and created some of the biggest moments in Raptors history along the way. In Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, Kawhi Leonard knocked down the shot heard around the world: a buzzer-beater to knock off the Philadelphia 76ers and send the Raptors to a Finals date with the Golden State Warriors.
Four perfect, tense, and never-ending bounces a rim before the ball dropped on. Pandemonium. Leonard's legacy exists like no other in Toronto, and maybe the whole NBA. He came, he saw, he conquered.
It would have been incredible to see him re-sign in Toronto and it's fair to say that the Raptors might well have been the favourites if he stuck around. We'll always have the memories, though.
Oh, and a title.
It feels a little early to put Pascal Siakam here, and maybe if Chris Bosh stuck around it would have been different. But, even in his fourth year as a pro, Pascal Siakam definitely deserves to be in this starting lineup.
Siakam was the - at the time - much-maligned 27th overall pick for the Toronto Raptors in the 2016 NBA Draft, and has since turned into one of the best players in the draft. In fact, there's a case to be made that Siakam may actually be the best player in the class right now. A class that features the likes of Ben Simmons and Jamal Murray.
His ascension has been swift, unprecedented, and frankly, just the wildest thing. Siakam was a solid bench player not three seasons ago, averaging 7.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.0 assists on 50-percent shooting from the field and 22-percent from three on just 1.6 attempts per game.
Fast forward to the 2019-20 NBA season and Siakam is coming off of winning the NBA's Most Improved Player award and, incredibly, is in the conversation to win it once more. Something that has never been done before.
Something that, realistically, shouldn't be possible. But Siakam's rise is so incredible, and now he's averaging 25.1 points, 8.0 rebounds, 3.6 assists per game, adding a steal and a block for good measure. His offensive game has improved too, no more is he just a fast break threat. Now, Siakam is knocking down above the break threes, taking on defenders in isolation and still devastating teams in transition.
At 25 years old, Siakam looks like he will only continue to get better. He's currently the face of the franchise and, while the MVP chatter has died down a little, Siakam is proving to be one of the best 15 players in the league. That's not something many Raptors' players have had the privilege of saying.
Picking the center spot might just have been the toughest choice of them all when building this All-Decade team. On the one hand, there's Jonas Valanciunas: the former fifth overall pick who spent seven seasons with the Toronto Raptors. JV continuously adjusted and tinkered with his game to fit what the Toronto Raptors needed from him.
If they wanted him to become a better passer, he did that. He became a much more effective defender than he was made out to be, too. Valanviunas was in the minus for Defensive Box Plus-Minus just twice in his Raptors career and considering his reputation as a turnstile defender at times, that comes as a nice surprise.
Towards the end of his Raptors tenure, he began to stretch his game out to the three-point line, and the "Death, taxes, and JV threes" call was born. It wasn't high volume sorts of action, but it was a timely reminder that Valanciunas was always looking to improve.
Often underutilised or misused, Valanciunas had a great post-game that the Raptors rarely leaned in to. He was a strong offensive player, but as the third star on the Raptors teams featuring Lowry and DeRozan, JV never averaged more than 11 field-goal attempts in a season.
He helped make the Toronto Raptors a better team. But, Marc Gasol helped make the Raptors NBA champions. Gasol hasn't been a member of the Toronto Raptors for even a year, but his impact was, essentially, the tipping point for the Raptors in their pursuit for a title.
Gasol was everything the Raptors needed. He's a sensational passer, interior defender, and floor spacer - even if his numbers have dwindled in his second season. But, unlike in Memphis, Gasol doesn't have to be the leading star. This role suits him perfectly.
He took down the likes of Nikola Vucevic and Joel Embiid en route to the Finals, and without him, both players could have dismantled the Raptors in the interior. He improved the Raptors style of play, the team became a highly efficient three-point shooting team and the assist numbers went up.
As good as Valanciunas was, it's probably safe to say that the Raptors don't win the title without Gasol on the roster.
He might not here for long at all, he's a free agent at the end of the season, but the impact he had on the team is enough to put him in the starting center position - the final spot on the team. And, just like that, we have our All-Decade team.