A big reason that Raptors President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri was able to so easily able retain his own free agents was they knew what this team was capable of and Patrick Patterson expects Toronto to build on their 48 win season because the Raptors found something special last year.
“We have something special,” Patterson said. “We have something positive. We have a great coaching staff, a great organization, great leadership, great players and guys who are hungry and willing to learn and get better every single day. I am glad that we are all staying together and with the success we had last year hopefully we can build on that and have an even better year.”
The Raptors became known for their resiliency last season. A team that didn’t quit and took down teams they had no business beating like the Thunder in Oklahoma City. They believed in themselves and they believe they’ll do better next season.
“Hopefully winning more than 48 games, being able to build on that, (having) a different mindset knowing what we are capable of, knowing what this team can do,” Patterson said. “Our resiliency, ability to battle and never give up no matter what the deficit is, no matter what the circumstances are. Our ability to stay together as a unit, as a family, depend upon one another. Build all that together, embrace the new guys and embrace the new situation and just get off to a good start.”
Toronto found team chemistry after the Rudy Gay trade in December, a fleeting mysterious ingredient that allows teams to be better than the sum of their parts and it didn’t just happen. The four players that came in from Sacramento parked their egos at the door and wanted to win at all costs and that attitude defined the Raptors for the rest of the season.
“We have no egos on this team,” Patterson insisted. “Everyone buys into their role. Everyone wants to do whatever it takes to win. Whether it’s someone who hasn’t been playing and they come into the game off the bench, they provide (something), whether it’s defense, offense, scoring, rebounds. It just seems like everybody knows their role, everyone accepts their role, everybody embraces their role. There are no egos, no problems. We all know what we have to do on the court to get better. It is just a beautiful thing when everyone does that.”
However, every season is unique in the NBA and fortunes can turn on a dime, so when Ujiri decided he had found a winning combination, he made continuity his top priority. The first step was to re-sign his Head Coach.
“It was very important (that Casey returned) because of what he did last year,” Patterson said. “His ability to – right when the trade happened – to turn everything around (and win) the Coach of the Month award. He was one of the key reasons for us having such great success. His ability to teach and make us get better out there on the court and every single day he brought it and whenever you have a coach who brings just as hard as everybody on the team – who is just as dedicated if not more – success is bound to happen.”
Then in free agency, Kyle Lowry, Patterson and Greivis Vasquez all committed to re-sign before the NBA’s July moratorium had even ended.
The Raptors are a young team and part of the optimism for the future comes from the anticipated improvement of their own players. Eight of the team’s top nine players from last season are back and the oldest is Tyler Hansbrough at 28.
“Everyone should take a huge leap forward because we are going to hold ourselves accountable and put ourselves on another level,” Patterson said. “Everyone is going to be here early. Everyone is going to stay late. Everyone is going to get extra work in. We are going to do everything possible to have a better year than last year and most importantly, get off to a great start.”
Evidence of Toronto’s sense of team and commitment to work in the off season can be seen with the influx of Raptors veterans watching NBA Summer League in Las Vegas and working out with their future rookies in the days ahead of the tournament.
However, there is also some excitement with Ujiri’s other additions to his roster for next season. Veteran guard Lou Williams was acquired by trade and has been instant offense throughout his 9 years in the league. James Johnson represents the big small forward that Casey was looking for to come off the bench and Patterson played with him in Sacramento.
“I played with JJ (James Johnson) in Sacramento for a while,” Patterson said. “I am well aware of his athletic ability, his ability to drive to the basket and finish around the rim. His jump shot is getting even better. He is solid at the defensive end and rebounding. Seeing Lou (Williams) on TV dropping 30-40 points, so we know he’s an offensive juggernaut, so we have some great additions to this team that will make us better and a tough team to handle. (Our bench) is even better now.”
The Raptors won a franchise best 48 games last year, but their core of players were on a 54 win pace after the big trade in December. Continuity, improving over the summer and a better bench, there are a lot of reasons for Patterson’s optimism heading into next season.
What James Johnson Brings Back To The Raptors
Lowry believes Casey and Johnson will get along fine and Johnson will jump right in and adapt just like the other players the Raptors added during last season.