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Best Trade Ever: Raptors Swap Jonathan Bender for Antonio Davis

Jonathan Bender's last NBA stint was with the Knicks. But Raptors fans will always remember him best for not suiting up for the Dinos.  Mandatory Credit: Jason Miller-US PRESSWIRE
Jonathan Bender's last NBA stint was with the Knicks. But Raptors fans will always remember him best for not suiting up for the Dinos. Mandatory Credit: Jason Miller-US PRESSWIRE

Over the course of their 18-year history, the Toronto Raptors haven't made many--or any for that matter--earth shattering trades. However, as the HQ's Scott Campsall argues, the trade that landed them Antonio Davis may be the team's most significant.

Picking the best trade in Raptors franchise history wasn’t all that challenging for a couple of reasons; namely the fact that the team has only been around for 18 years, but also in all honesty, the franchise just hasn’t produced that many seriously impactful trades.

Of course there are a few small deals that the Dino executives have made which turned out in their favor—like turning Roko Ukic and restricted free agent Carlos Delfino into Amir Johnson and Sonny Weems—but as far as impact moves go, there are very few to pick from.

If you polled most Raptor fans about this question, I would imagine it would come down to two possible choices, both of which were draft day trades. The first contender saw Antawn Jamison drafted by the Raps and almost immediately swapped to Golden State for Vince Carter and cash. This move landed the Raptors their first legitimate star and a player that would put Toronto on the map as a legitimate NBA city.

The other move took place almost exactly a year later, when the Raptors selected Jonathan Bender with the fifth overall pick in the 1999 draft and sent him to Indiana for veteran power forward Antonio Davis. At the time, the move didn’t seem all that important for the team. The Raps were giving swapping a promising young high school prospect in Bender for a veteran presence that the team of mostly young players needed.

Considering the circumstances surrounding each trade I have opted to give the nod to the trade that landed the Raptors Antonio Davis for a couple of reasons. For starters, while the Vince Carter trade did land them a superstar, the team could simply have drafted him without opting for the trade and landing extra cash in the process.

The other reason, which is also one of the reasons why the Antonio Davis trade was so important was that the alternative in this situation would be Antawn Jamison who turned out to have a solid NBA career and was a two-time all-star. The same cannot be said for what the Dinos gave up to get Antonio Davis.

When the Raptors made the move to get Antonio Davis on June 30th 1999 they were coming off of a lockout shortened season in which the team finished 23-27 and actually showed some promise. The team had just added Vince Carter, the Rookie of the Year, in the draft, pairing him with Tracy McGrady who had finally started to see the floor under then head coach Butch Carter.

By adding Davis to a front-court rotation of veterans that featured Kevin Willis and Charles Oakley, the Dinos now had a nice compliment of veterans surrounding their young core of rising stars. The immediate results were promising. The Raptors finished with 45 wins and their first ever playoff berth.

Despite suffering a sweep at the hands of the more experienced New York Knicks squad, the Raptors had made a huge jump and seemed ready to do damage in the Eastern Conference. This was due in large part to a great season from Davis that saw him post then career-highs of 11.5 points and 8.8 rebounds per game.

The following season Davis again posted career-highs in points and rebounds with 13.7 and 10.1 respectively. Davis also made the All-Star team for the first and only time of his career. As a team the Raptors won a franchise-record 47 games and advanced to game seven of the Eastern Conference Semifinals—a high point for the franchise.

In Antonio Davis the Raptors found a veteran forward to man their front court for four seasons and parts of a fifth. During that time Davis posted career-high numbers on multiple occasions and the team made the playoffs three times. The Raptors have made the playoffs just two times since.

On the other side of that trade was Jonathan Bender, a promising young forward with shot blocking skills that entered the league right out of high school. This was during a time in which that type of leap was becoming increasing popular due to the success stories of players like Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett.

Unfortunately for Bender, he was not as successful as his predecessors. Bender played just eight years in the NBA due to a nagging knee injury that eventually ended his career prematurely.

Not only did the Raptors dodge a bullet with this deal, but they added one of the most successful front-court players to ever play for the franchise. Considering what they gave up and what they got in return, this deal has to stand as the best trade in franchise history.