There have been suggestions out of Toronto lately that the Raptors should be looking harder at acquiring some home-grown Canadian talent. There has been a steadily growing influx of Canada’s best young basketball talent onto NBA rosters recently, however, none of it has landed in Toronto and the highest drafted Canadians are currently in Cleveland.
Two years ago it was the Cavaliers who surprised everyone by selecting forward Tristan Thompson fourth overall just one pick ahead of the Raptors. Thompson was highest drafted Canadian basketball player in the history of the NBA and no one thought he was even on the Raptors radar with the fifth pick. The Cavaliers watched him work out, liked what they saw and made NBA and Canadian history in the process.
A month ago the Cavaliers were back at the NBA draft with their second first overall selection in three years. The selection of Kyrie Irving first in 2011 brought the team a franchise player and the hope was they could continue to build on their draft success in 2013.
This year did not have a consensus first overall draft pick. Nerlens Noel was the early favorite, but a torn ACL prematurely ended his college season and the young center may not play in the NBA before the new year, if at all, this season. Noel fell to sixth in the draft as the Cavaliers and other teams looked to avoid taking on a player who could miss his rookie season.
Like two years before, Cleveland liked what they saw in another young Canadian forward and this time they took Anthony Bennett first overall. In the process, the Cavaliers set a new record for the highest drafted Canadian basketball player.
The choice of Bennett was met with both surprise and joy. Former two-time NBA MVP and Canadian basketball icon Steve Nash expressed the feelings of many people in Canada on June 27th.
— Steve Nash (@SteveNash) June 27, 2013
The Raptors are Canada’s only NBA team. Unfortunately the franchise hasn’t enjoyed a lot of success and has spent the last five years in the lottery. Unlike the Cavaliers with two first overall draft picks, two fourth overall draft picks and two more later first round draft picks since LeBron James left town in 2010, the best first-rounders the Raptors have been able to hold on to in their five year drought is a fifth overall pick in 2011 to go with an eighth and a ninth overall pick.
The Cavaliers are loaded with sure-fire young talent that will pan out between superstar and strong rotation player. In two more trips to the lottery than the Cavaliers, the Raptors are counting on just Jonas Valanciunas and DeMar DeRozan to become their home grown stars.
Not everything is bleak in Toronto, however, the Raptors new President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri has done a good job of assembling a staff, rebuilding a coaching staff and adding players that Head Coach Dwane Casey should be successful with. However, the fan base is nervous and ready to raise the “Tank Nation” banner at the first signs of trouble. There is yet another Canadian prospect that could go first overall in next summer’s draft.
Cleveland on the other hand is justifiably optimistic. They can see their future and it looks promising. It looks promising from north of the border too. Quicken Loans Arena is a mere 5.5 hours drive from downtown Toronto, with the added benefit of excellent shopping for Torontonians who wouldn’t mind an overnight trip to watch some highly regarded Canadian players compete in a positively charged atmosphere. It doesn’t hurt that ticket prices and concessions are a lot cheaper in Cleveland as well.
Toronto fans are not so fickle as to abandon their hometown Raptors just because they don’t have a Canadian on their roster. However, if it looks like another trip to the lottery is in store, it will quickly become a lot more enticing to start watching two local players on a more successful franchise just a few hours away.
All the Raptors have to do to win the hearts and minds of the fans north of the border is win games. Otherwise, some Toronto fans will start cheering for the Canadians playing south of the border.
Stephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre. A member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association, Stephen is the editor and publisher of Pro Bball Report.
You can follow Stephen on twitter @stevesraptors