The Toronto Raptors have averaged an impressive 51 victories over the past three campaigns, resulting in playoff trips and an Eastern Conference Finals appearance. But the team’s success shouldn’t be all that surprising because over the course of the franchise’s history, there have been multiple eras of positive momentum. However, those brief flashes of excellence have been halted by free agency departures and trades.
Prolific scorers Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter were part of the team’s early 2000s run, which included multiple playoff trips. But soon after, McGrady would leave in free agency and Carter would bounce out of town via trade.
The Raptors made two consecutive trips to the playoffs in the mid-2000s on the strength of an emerging Chris Bosh honing his craft. But not long after, Bosh took his game to Miami – leaving Toronto high and dry in free agency.
This is why it has to be refreshing for Raptors fans enjoying the team’s recent run. But heading into the summer, there were no guarantees for Toronto.
Once again, the franchise had the momentum. Once again, the franchise had one of their top stars entering free agency with the ability to leave for perceived greener pastures. All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan had interest throughout the league for his services. Twenty-point scorers are a premium and even though DeRozan doesn’t knock down a boatload of three-pointers, the havoc he causes getting to the rim continues to put respective defenses on their heels.
But DeRozan opted to stay put. The veteran guard didn’t engage in a whirlwind tour of being wined and dined by league executives and celebrities in different locales. DeRozan instead rather quickly agreed to a whopping five-year, $139 million deal to remain with the Raptors and for once keep the momentum moving forward.
“I am Toronto,” DeRozan reportedly said shortly after inking his new deal. “Outside of where I’m from, I represent this city harder than anybody. I’ve got so many goals I want to accomplish still; I just can’t wait to put that jersey back on and keep going.”
Where he’s from is important.
DeRozan grew up in California, not far from where the suddenly lottery stricken Los Angeles Lakers reside. The Lakers entered free agency with loads of cap room and an obvious hole at shooting guard due to the retirement of Kobe Bryant. However, DeRozan’s bare bones free agency approach didn’t even allow rumors of him potentially “heading back home” to gain any steam.
While the “fifth” year of the deal and near $150 million guarantee likely played a heavy role in DeRozan returning, just look to Oklahoma City – who lost former league MVP Kevin Durant in free agency this summer to Golden State – for proof that nothing is guaranteed (despite on-court success).
Toronto may never become the prime destination for elite-level free agents. But for once, they were able to maintain a huge piece of their current success to keep the momentum going.
In a smaller move, center Jared Sullinger recently agreed to a one-year, $5.6 million deal to join the Raptors next season. Sullinger’s comments, after agreeing to the deal, could indicate that there might be a changing opinion from players on heading up to Canada to play.
“I talked to (former teammate) Amir [Johnson] while I was in Vegas,” Sullinger said, according to Raptors.com. “Amir said it’s a beautiful city. He didn’t want to leave. He said the fans are unbelievable. He said Toronto made him who he is today. When you hear stuff like that, especially from Amir, being able to know Amir, everything he’s done, everything he’s been through, it means everything coming from Amir.”
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