Posts Tagged ‘Season in Review’

Mmmmm....losing.

Mmmmm….losing.

Got some sporty friends coming over for a special occasion? Want to impress them with your ability to cook up failure, disappointment, and mediocrity? We’ve got you covered.

Chef Colangelo’s tried-and-true recipe should do nicely. First, the ingredients:

(Serves a city of 2.6 million)

  • 2 cups of marketing
  • 8 lbs of optimism
  • 1 tsp or less of talent (optional)
  • 1 point guard controversy
  • 1-2 talented but over-hyped rookies
  • 3 cups of NBA journeymen
  • 1 rock (for pounding)
  • 2 apologies for poor officiating
  • 1 secret ingredient (be sure to overpay grossly for this one)
  • A pinch of Primo pasta sauce
Directions:
1. Before cooking, tell your guests how awesome the meal will be.

In the pre-season, word was that the Raptors would be back in the playoffs in April. Last year’s defensive boost, thanks to Coach Casey, was sure to continue. We were a lock for the 8th spot, at least. And with Valanciunas the Lethal Lithuanian on board, this was bound to be a great year.

2. Start slowly. Very slowly.

One of the worst starts in franchise history had people screaming for a total rebuild before Christmas. Word spread around the league that this was a surprisingly bad team. One of my favourite quotes from the early season came from Ben Golliver at The Blazer’s Edge, writing after the 4-18 Raptors had visited (and lost by 18 points to) his hometown Blazers:

The horror stories bubble quickly around the NBA and the word has been out about the Raptors for a few weeks now. It’s never the same until you see it up close though. This wasn’t 2012 Charlotte Bobcats bad or 2011 Washington Wizards bad, but it was worse in a way, because the Raptors seem like genuinely nice and good people who are trying to win, or at least not actively trying to lose.

It’s a beautiful quote because it’s so completely Toronto. We’re the lovable losers. The dinner guests you invite over because you feel bad for them, and they bring you an awful bottle of homemade wine that tastes like tepid grape juice and gives you the runs.

3. After simmering for a while, change ingredients.

In one of the season’s most bittersweet moments, the beloved Jose Calderon was moved, along with Ed Davis, in a three-team deal that brought Rudy Gay to Toronto. Gay appeared to have an immediate impact, pouring in the points and hitting big shots. For the first time since Mookie Wilson, Torontonians had a sports star whose name could be chanted and sound like booing:

But the honeymoon didn’t last long, as folks started to realize that for every big shot he hit, Rudy was hoisting up about a thousand others that would clang off iron. His shooting percentage was shockingly low, and before you could say “buyer’s remorse”, fans were wishing we could go back to the days of a reliable, pass-first, shoddy-defending point guard.

4. Serve sheepishly, but with assurances that dessert will be amazing.

When the chefs at MLSE realized that they’d served Toronto yet another helping of lousy basketball, they were ready with 17 excuses reasons why fans should be ready for some serious contending next year. Seriously. For serious this time. They even made a website and video about it:

But in all honesty, we know what next year will be like. If the chef is the same, the meal will still have the same odd smell, the same mealy texture, the same bitter aftertaste.

The Raptors finish 2012-2013 moving into un-charted territory, even for a club with their sad history: for the first time, the team has seen five straight seasons with no playoffs. The drought has been on for so long that we’ve started to forget what water even looks like.

But don’t worry. Chef Colangelo’s cooking up something great for next year.

A typical scene on the Raptors' bench early this season: Johnson stares blankly into the middle distance, Butler checks the clock to see when the pain will end, Gray tends to a throbbing headache, and Bargnani wonders what colour suit he should wear for the next game.

At barely four months, the season that ended today seemed like it only began yesterday…and yet, there were times when it felt like it would never end. In fact, the Toronto Raptors’ 2011-2012 season is best described by paraphrasing Charles Dickens: It was the shortest of seasons, it was the longest of seasons.

And if you’ll humour me a bit, I’d like to keep the literary theme going, and take a look back at the 2012 campaign month by month, to see if we can examine it like a series of classic novels. After all, the Raptors managed to cover just about all the genres this year: horror, suspense, comedy, mystery…a bit of everything. So grab your pencil and start taking notes, because this will all be on the final test.

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Month 1: Great Expectations

When the season finally began, there was a sense of optimism in the air. We had a new coach, fresh off a championship in Dallas, who was going to teach the team how to play defence. We won the first game of the season, and early on we were sitting pretty at 3-3. Bargnani was pouring in the points, playing like an all-star:

But like any good novel, once the characters were established and the mood was set, we arrived at second stage of the plot, just like you learned in English class: conflict. Bargnani got hurt. The losses started to pile up. And month two brought with it the winter of the Raptors’ discontent.

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Month 2: Hard Times

February was not kind to the Raptors. They lost 9 of 13 games, including back-to-back heartbreakers courtesy of Kobe Bryant and Jeremy Lin. With Derozan opting out of the dunk contest, Toronto went completely unrepresented at the all-star weekend in Orlando. Bargnani continued to sit out, and the only Raptor who was playing well on a consistent basis was first-round pick Jonas Valanciunas. In Lithuania. And then, on February 17th, the Raptors hit rock-bottom:

In a game that was grittier than the gutters of Dickensian London, not only did the Raptors manage to break Charlotte’s 16-game losing streak, but they did it on “Fan Appreciation Night” at the ACC. The season was starting to develop enough tragic irony to make Shakespeare jealous.

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Month 3: A Tale Of Two Cities

Like the French peasantry in Dickens’ most renowned novel, basketball fans in Toronto were demoralized by this point in the season. However, just like in pre-revolutionary France, the winds of change were in the air. And those winds ended up blowing Leandro Barbosa right out of town on Deadline Day. Things were back and forth as spring came to Toronto; a satisfying overtime win against Memphis lifted our spirits…and a second loss to the Bobcats brought us back to earth.

(Side note: why did Memphis borrow the Oakland A’s uniforms for this game?)

Like the two cities in the title of Dickens’ classic, there were two versions of the Raptors: the one that could excite you, and the one that frustrated you. There were two point guards: the one who knew how to defend, and the one who knew how to pass. Questions about how best to prepare for next year brought the realization that the season’s end was just around the corner.

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Month 4: Oliver Twist

Is there any character in the history of literature more deserving of sympathy than Oliver Twist?  Taken advantage of by the rich and powerful, mistreated, stepped on, overlooked. As the 2011-2012 NBA regular season comes to a close, and the league’s wealthier, more talented, better-loved teams move into the playoffs, I can’t help but see my beloved Raptors as the Oliver Twist of the basketball world.

As the league’s bourgeoisie geared up for the post-season by making big trades or signing free agents, the proletariate Raptors quietly gave lesser-known players a chance to play- Uzoh, Anderson, Dentmon…NBA orphans who woudn’t have a chance anywhere else.

Have the Raptors shown improvement? The question was on the minds of all fans over the season’s final month, and we all desperately wanted the answer to be “yes”. We wanted our little Oliver Twist to find a better lot in life. Certainly, many numbers would suggest that the team improved this year. Admittedly, they would’ve had to try pretty hard to be worse than last year, but there really did seem to be a bit more of a fighting spirit this season, summarized wonderfully by Raptors Republic:

What used to be listless blowouts under Triano have turned into either respectable defeats, or outings where they’ve hung around long enough for the miserable, suffering fan to say, “Hmm, I guess that’s better, or an improvement at least…let’s see what else is on TV”.

And, as difficult as this season was, part of me doesn’t want it to be over.

Part of me wants to go back to the ACC tomorrow, to see if Ed Davis has gotten any tougher. To see if Calderon can handle another 47 minutes of playing time without evaporating from exhaustion. To see if Jamaal Magloire will hit a free-throw.

I’m a sucker for punishment, a Raptor fan for life, and like little Oliver Twist, I stand here at the end of the season, my empty bowl in my hands, saying, “please, sir, I want some more.”

You’re darn right I want some more. See you next year.

I am officially declaring the Toronto Raptors to be the most lovable losers in sports.

Maybe I’m a natural optimist, maybe the spring air is making my head feel funny, or maybe after so many years of living in Toronto, I just expect sports teams to be terrible.

Whatever the reason, I find that now, as the final buzzer sounds to end the dazzling ineptitude that was the Raptors’ 2010-11 season, I am a bigger fan than ever before.

Why?

Let’s take a look at some of the things the Raptors lost this year to see if we can figure it out.

1.   They lost Chris Bosh.
Everyone knew it was coming; after all, this is a city where you play to build your resume, then go on to success somewhere else. Bosh was well-liked in this city. He was funny. He played hard. He had crazy hair. But he wanted to win, and that was clearly not going to happen here.

Just look at how excited Bosh is in that video. He can’t believe that he might be headed for the playoffs. I can’t help but be a little happy for him.

So we lost Bosh. But it’s okay.

 2.   DeMar DeRozan lost the dunk contest.
Serge Ibaka grabbed a stuffed animal with his teeth. JaVale McGee brought out an extra backboard. Blake Griffin jumped over a blatant piece of product placement. DeRozan, meanwhile, dunked the ball.

No props, no gimmicks, just one of the best in-contest dunks ever; and he did it on the first attempt. And yet, a year after losing in the final round to sentimental favourite Nate Robinson, who won by virtue of being short, DeRozan was out again.

So he lost the dunk contest. But it’s okay.

3.   They lost the first (and second) NBA games ever played in Europe.
I’ll never fully understand why, in a league filled with eye-popping talent, the NBA decided to send the Raptors and the Nets to be Britain’s first taste of live basketball. But when the Raptors lost back-to-back games against New Jersey in London, the arena was sold out both nights. The fans loved it. The second game went into triple-overtime, and the whole experiment was seen as a resounding success.

So they lost both games in England. But it’s okay.

4.   They lost the 3-point streak.
This one went kind of un-detected in the media, but for over a decade, the Raptors hit at least one 3-pointer in every game for a record 986 games. And then, in a depressing last-second loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, the streak came quietly to an end.

A few weeks later, the Dallas Mavericks surpassed Toronto’s short-lived record, and became the first team to run a 3-point streak to over a thousand games.

I love this video of the shot that cost us the game and the streak; the despair in the camera man’s voice, the way he just knows what’s coming, really sums up the season for many Raptor fans:

So the Raptors lost a lot this season. As I write this, the season has just ended; our good friend Chris Bosh has just finished handing the Raptors their 60th loss of the season.

But it’s okay.

Chris Bosh has new life, and playoff dreams, in Miami.
Blake Griffin is the Slam Dunk champion.
The Mavericks hold the record for most consecutive games with at least one 3-pointer.
And somewhere in England, some young lad who was always a bit too tall to play “footie”, is picking up a basketball for the first time.

For anyone to win, someone has to lose. And that’s what the Raptors do.

See you next season.