By Frank McLean
On Tuesday I dropped in on the Toronto Raptors practice just to get an idea of how they were getting ready for Thursday night’s curtain raiser for the 2017-2018 NBA season. And the talk again, like it seems every year for the last four years, is that this team gets no respect. They are the Rodney Dangerfield of the National Basketball Association.
If you are old enough to remember Rodney, he was the comedian who based his stand-up act on him getting no respect from anybody in the world. In the basketball world, this is your Toronto Raptors.
Many of the pundits, and yes those pundits are in the United States, do not think the Raptors have a shot at finishing in the top group in the Eastern Conference again. The worst insult comes from the self-proclaimed “World Wide Leader in Sports” ESPN, who picked the Raptors to finish sixth in the East. This is the same group that listed DeMar DeRozan the 39th best player in the league, but that’s another story for another time.
Looking at the body of the Raptors work for the last four seasons this does not make any sense.
They have made the playoffs four straight seasons, including an appearance in the 2015 conference finals. Two 50 plus win seasons the last two years and an all-star starting backcourt of DeRozan and Kyle Lowry.
New Raptor C.J. Miles he can’t understand it because he has had to play against this team over the last four years.
“How does anybody write a story and not talk about a team that was third in the East last year?” Miles questioned. “It’s a little weird. I didn’t really think about it. From the outside looking in as a guy who’s a fan of the game and watches games and watches everybody play, I looked at them as an elite team and when I walked into the arena they felt like an elite team when you played against them.
“Second or third in the East and now they don’t even say your name, like, how does that happen”?” a flabbergasted Miles added.
Head coach Dwane Casey feels that this should light a little fire under his teams butt.
“It should (put) you off,” Casey said. “There are still 82 games to be played. We should take that as a line of disrespect because we went from tied with Cleveland all the way down to fifth or sixth of wherever they have us. Paper says one thing and all the predictions say one thing, but it’s up to us as a team to go out and compete and show they’re different.”
For DeRozan this no respect thing is just another year at the office.
“Nothing changed,” DeRozan explained. “Same old thing. For us, we’ve got to go out there, worry about ourselves and at the end of the day, it don’t matter what we do, pretty sure they’ll say the same things.”
DeRozan added that since the core of this team has been together for so long the is a comfort level that has led to their success.
“Camaraderie and chemistry is hard to come by. So when you have that sense of comfort, knowing guys as individuals, on and off the court, you have a different comfort zone when you go out there in the big moments, understanding each other,” he added.
“That kind of goes a long way and it actually wins you games in the NBA. You can tell teams that have been together for years, just off the strength of that, they can pull out victories over more talented teams.”
What to expect this year?
Well if this team stays healthy, they should have a good shot for a third straight 50 win season.
This should upset the pundits south of the border who only talk about Cleveland, Golden State, Boston, Houston and maybe San Antonio as the only worthy teams to talk about playing in the NBA Finals.
Let’s face it, ESPN really wants a Cleveland-Golden State Finals part four because according to them, there are only two players in the NBA and they are named James and Curry.
So starting Thursday night let’s see if “WE THE NORTH” can get a little respect that Rodney never got.
Veteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.