Tailgate Throwbacks: Who is the Greatest Raptor of All Time?July 23, 2018
The two most notable Raptors players in the franchises short history are arguably DeMar DeRozan and Vince Carter. They are legends in Toronto and should have their jerseys retired. However, now that DeMar’s career in Toronto is finished, the time has come to see who had the better career with the Raptors.
First, we will begin with a little backstory on the Toronto Raptors. In 1995, the NBA expanded adding two new teams: the Vancouver Grizzlies and Toronto Raptors. This was an attempt to hopefully gain fans from over the border. The following 3 seasons the Raptors were abysmal, winning a total of 67 games. With their best players being NBA journeymen Damon Stoudamire and Doug Christie, the Raptors were fortunate that the fans in Toronto were excited about the new team – the Raptors attendance was in the top half of the league. But the fans would not stay excited forever, so the Raptors needed a star, one in which they would receive in the 1998 NBA Draft.
The Raptors had the 4th pick in the draft and selected North Carolina forward Antawn Jamison. The Golden State Warriors then proceeded to pick another Tar Heel, Vince Carter. After a trade between the Warriors and Raptors, Jamison and Carter swapped teams. This was a big moment for the Raptors franchise, because had they stuck with Jamison, they may not be in Toronto. Don’t get me wrong, Jamison was a solid two time All-Star, but not someone one could build a team around. With the trade, the Raptors received a player in which could carry a team and bring fresh excitement to the Canadian expansion team.
After a great rookie season in which Carter earned Rookie of the Year, he dominated in his second season, averaging 25.7 points and selected to the All-Star team. The Raptors finished the season with a 45-37 record and earned their first franchise playoff spot. Even though they were swept by the Knicks, the Raptors were able to show that they deserved to be in the league. On the other hand, their Canadian neighbors, the Grizzlies, moved to Memphis after 6 dreadful seasons in Vancouver. With star Vince Carter, the Raptors were safe from the franchise needing to be transferred.
Another important event happened in the 1999-2000 season: the All-Star game. Vince Carter, known for his great athleticism, was already posterizing helpless defenders. However, unlike today, not every game was televised on NBA League Pass & every highlight didn’t make the daily SportsCenter Top 10. So when Vince Carter was selected for the Dunk Contest, this was his chance to showcase not only himself, but the Toronto Raptors. Carter completely dominated the competition, putting on a legendary dunking exhibition that earned him the Dunk Contest Champion. This great display brought notoriety to Carter & the Raptor franchise.
The following 4 seasons Carter dominated the league, averaging 24.2 points, 4.1 assists, and 5 rebounds, and was named an All-Star each year. However, the Raptors only made the playoffs two times: the 1st 2 years of this span and missed the playoffs the last 2 years. The best Playoff run for the Raptors was reaching the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, during the 2000-2001 season. Carter’s 7th season with Toronto was cut short by a trade to the New Jersey Nets. Carter wanted out of Toronto & the star left without much of a goodbye.
The Carter era in Toronto was suddenly finished and it would be a couple of years until the Raptors would find a star as connected with Toronto. There was Chris Bosh, who, like Carter, played 7 seasons with Toronto. But he never seemed truly invested in Toronto, as evidenced when he left for Miami into 2010 offseason. However, the season before Bosh left, the Raptors selected a 6’7 shooting guard out of USC with the 9th pick in the 2009 NBA Draft named DeMar DeRozan.
With little veteran leadership, DeRozan was thrown into a Raptors team without much of an identity. While the Raptors were often much younger and faster than their opponents, this lack of veteran leadership impacted their ability to close out many games, leading to their middle of the road record of 40-42.
After Bosh left for Miami, DeRozan was able to flourish in his second season, averaging 17.2 points though the Raptors did not reach the playoffs. The next two seasons followed the same pattern as DeRozan improved, but the playoffs still eluded the Raptors. This would all change in the 2013-2014 season.
DeRozan’s fifth season, the 2013-2014 season, had many important moments. DeRozan would be selected as an All-Star for the first time, the Raptors’ record would be above .500 for the first time in 7 seasons, and the Raptors would be in the playoffs for the first time in 6 years. Even though the Raptors would be sent home after the first round of the playoffs, they were now a force in the Eastern Conference. The following year DeMar and the Raptors would continue to improve and make the playoffs, but not make it to the second round again. While this may have been disappointing, the following season was the best overall season in the Raptors’ history.
After missing the All-Star game the previous season, DeMar made sure not to miss the cut, and he was selected to the All-Star Game with fellow Raptor, Kyle Lowry. This All-Star Game was very important to the Raptors, because the game was to be played in their arena, the Air Canada Centre. This was the first NBA All-Star game the located in Toronto and it was a great opportunity to showcase the franchise.
Along with the All-Star weekend festivities, the Raptors post-season was likewise truly special. They survived 7th game showdowns during the first two rounds. In round three, the 2-seeded Raptors came up against the number 1 seed, the Cleveland Cavaliers. This was the Raptors first appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals, a big milestone for the team. As LeBron James had done to those teams in his way of the Finals the past five years, LeBron beat the Raptors in 6 games and headed to his 6th straight NBA Finals appearance.
Even though the Raptors lost to the Cavaliers, there was still much hope for the Toronto fan base. DeRozan and Lowry were just entering their primes and would hopefully be able to overtake an older LeBron James the next year. The following season, DeRozan’s scoring improved & he repeated as an All-Star, but the Raptors again fell to the Cavaliers.
2017-2018 was the best regular season for the Raptors franchise. DeRozan and Lowry were selected as All-Stars and the Raptors clinched the 1 seed in the East, finishing with a 59-23 record – best in franchise history. While the regular season proved to be remarkable, the postseason ended in typical frustrating fashion. The 1 seeded Raptors lost, once again, to the 4 seeded Cavaliers in a sweep. After this abrupt end, the Raptors fired their coach Dwayne Casey and DeRozan was traded on July 18, 2018 to the San Antonio Spurs for Kawhi Leonard.
So, who had the better career for the Raptors: Vince Carter or DeMar DeRozan? Originally I was going to go with Carter, because without Carter a scenario could be envisioned where the Raptors do not stay in Toronto. They would most likely be transferred, like the Grizzlies, to an NBA-ready city in the United States. Vince Carter allowed the city of Toronto to establish a strong connection with the Raptors and brought media attention to the Raptors.
However, the question is who had the better career with the Raptor? In 7 seasons, Carter put up amazing stats, but only made the playoffs three times and ended the relationship with Toronto by demanding a trade. DeRozan played 9 seasons in Toronto, led the Raptors to their best regular season record, to 5 straight postseason births, and to its only Eastern Conference Finals. When DeRozan was eligible to be a free-agent, he didn’t meet with any other teams except the Raptors. Unlike Carter, DeMar was traded against his wishes. His loyalty to Toronto & to the Raptors is noteworthy. Thus, I give a slight edge to DeMar DeRozan as the greatest player in Raptor history.
Written by Matthew Lippe