It was 10 years ago today, December 17, 2004, when the Toronto Raptors went from a US National TV worthy team to being forgotten in the frozen North. The Raptors had sent superstar Vince Carter in a huff with management to the New Jersey Nets for Alonzo Mourning, Aaron Williams, Eric Williams, a 2005 1st round draft pick (Joey Graham was later selected) and a 2006 1st round draft pick (Renaldo Balkman was later selected).
Mourning used the opportunity to force his way to Miami on the “I can’t play because I’m seriously ill” excuse where he immediately flexed his way to an Eastern Conference Finals berth with the HEAT and an NBA Championship the next year. Apparently he could have played for Toronto, but this way he got both his money and his ring and the Raptors got the shaft.
The aging Eric Williams played the rest of 2004-05 with Toronto and 28 games the next season before being traded to the Spurs with Matt Bonner for Rasho Nesterovic and the similarly aged Aaron Williams was traded after 14 games in the next season for second round draft picks – thanks for coming, the Raptors had been hosed.
The draft picks turned into the physical gifted but basketball I.Q. challenged Graham in 2005 and the 2006 pick was traded to the Knicks with Jalen Rose for Antonio Davis. Davis was waived after playing 8 games.
The Raptors only joy out of what could only be described as the worst trade in franchise history up to the present day would be two decent seasons out of the journeyman center Nesterovic.
The day after the trade was consummated, ESPN broke down the deal:
“Any time you lose a guy like Vince, it’s a big blow,” Toronto forward Donyell Marshall said. “He was to Canada what Michael Jordan was to the Bulls.”
Carter earned the nicknames “Air Canada” and “Half-Man, Half-Amazing” for his high-flying dunks, which breathed life into a moribund franchise and made him easily the biggest star to play in Canada since the NBA expanded there 10 years ago.
“We are very excited to add a player of Vince’s caliber to the Nets roster,” Nets president Rod Thorn said. “He is a proven All-Star who brings a unique dynamic to any team of which he is a member.”
Carter left the Raptors as the franchise leader in scoring and 9 other categories. It was the day the franchise almost died and it led to seven trips to the NBA draft lottery, a streak only briefly broken by the unexpected runs in 2006-07 and 2007-08 until Toronto hired Masai Ujiri as their President and General Manager last season.
On the tenth anniversary of the Carter trade the Raptors are back and better than ever before. It has been a long journey from that infamous day to relevance once again, but for the first time ever Toronto is riding at the top of the Eastern Conference after 25 games and is creeping back into the consciousness of the US National TV decision-makers.
No dominant superstar this time, Ujiri has built a team that has withstood the midseason loss of their All-Star DeMar DeRozan for over two weeks and remained at the top. The day the Raptors almost died in long way back in the rearview mirror.
Note: The Nets, now in Brooklyn, return to play the Raptors on the tenth anniversary of the Carter trade at the Air Canada Centre.
“We got to stop playing to our competition and play Raptors basketball,” James Johnson told Pro Bball Report. “We the North and we got to start acting like it.”
The top team in the NBA these days by a wide margin is the Golden State Warriors and it isn’t even close – not by any subjective measure. 5. Raptors 18-6 Toronto has hit a bump in the road with DeMar DeRozan sidelined for the past 2 weeks and not expected back before Christmas.