Despite the fact that basketball is flourishing like never before in Canada, the number of Toronto Raptors Canadians remains comparatively small. While only a handful of Canadians, including Chris Boucher and Cory Joseph, have ever suited up in Raptors red and black, they added another one to the mix with the addition of center Khem Birch.
Birch was bought out by the Orlando Magic as they looked to get Wendell Carter and Mo Bamba extra playing time. The Raptors, in need of an interior presence with more offensive skill than Aron Bayes (admittedly, not hard to find), picked up Birch and immediately inserted him into the rotation.
Birch could’ve gone to any number of teams that needed some muscle on the inside, including some teams that are competing for a championship, but he chose to go back home to the Raptors.
Birch himself confirmed that playing for Toronto was “a surreal moment”, and the dream of becoming one of just a select few of his countrymen to suit up for the league’s only Canadian team has finally been realized.
Birch might be a trendsetter, as several other young Canadiens could follow his lead in the coming years by linking back up with their hometown team.
Will Khem Birch help more Canadians come to the Toronto Raptors?
The Canadian imprint in the NBA landscape is a relatively new phenomenon. Of the 43 players born in Canada that have played in the NBA, 31 of them made their NBA debut after Toronto was awarded an expansion franchise, and 18 of them are currently on NBA rosters.
This younger generation might be intrigued by the idea of coming back home to play, especially since the Raptors have established themselves as a winning organization of late.
While the big-name stars like Jamal Murray, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and RJ Barrett likely aren’t going anywhere, there are plenty of role players who might be intrigued. Centers like Dwight Powell and Kelly Olynyk could make the trip north, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker isn’t a sure-fire part of New Orleans’ future.
If enough role players like Olynyk and Birch end up making the trip north, and succeed on the court when doing so, stars that are considering free agency could shun their hometown teams.
This could, in turn, make Toronto, a city that normally loses out on top free agents due to weather, taxes, geography, and the trappings of Canadian life, into a hotspot that vacuums up top national talent.
Birch’s solid, if less than amazing, production might not be very impressive at face value, but what he represents could be game-changing. If the best Canadian talent in the league starts migrating to the Raptors, they could find a feasible solution with which to sustain their winning ways.