So much of basketball, more so than in most sports, is based on the minute shifting of a dozen or so interpersonal relationships. The general manager of any team seeks to acquire the most talent, sure, but the hope is always that the assembled roster will move in concert toward its goal. The Toronto Raptors of 2014-15 look to be a team built on this simple to define but difficult to achieve philosophy. When asked, each player was quick to speak on what chemistry means to forming a team identity and the respect earned from around the league as a result.
"They want to be taken serious. That's one of the best things that I've gotten from everybody. I feel like sometimes Toronto is looked at as like a second tier team to everybody else because they're in Canada," Lou Williams, one of the newest Raptors, said on the team culture. "And they want the league to take them serious, they want everybody to pay attention to them and they're serious about coming in, in training camp, and starting to build towards their goal."
After an unfortunate ACL injury, and a gradual slide out of the Atlanta Hawks' rotation, Williams is looking to resume the career arc that saw him as one of the premier scoring guards in the league. On a team looking for respect, the seemingly forgotten Williams may have found the perfect fit.
The Raptors returning power forward Patrick Patterson, re-signed to an $18 million deal, also knows what it feels like to be an afterthought. After leaving a loaded Kentucky Wildcats team - one that included John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and the recently paid Eric Bledsoe - and being tossed into NBA trades twice in his young career, Patterson appreciates the Raptors' progress.
"From a certain standpoint I still feel like we're overlooked, that we don't get enough credit or enough due or respect," said Patterson. "But with the way that we finished, the record that we had, winning our division, making people respect us in the playoffs, I feel like when we go into games this year more teams will realize, hey you know the Raptors are a good basketball team, they're no one that we should look over."
These are just some of the newer Raptors; Williams has yet to play a game for the squad, and Patterson a full season. What of the veterans on the team?
"For us it's just all about being on the same page. Once we get every player on the same page, we have that one goal which is to win, that's when we start playing together and playing well and treating it like a family atmosphere," said Amir Johnson, the longest tenured Raptor along with DeMar DeRozan. "I'm excited that we got everybody back this year. The biggest thing we have is chemistry, which is hard to get around the NBA."
Both Johnson and DeRozan have been through the Colangelo era when it felt like the team roster and staff were in constant turmoil. Before the question about chemistry could even be finished to DeRozan, he was ready with his answer:
"It means everything, especially for me personally because I never really had a consistent group of guys that I could play with and the chemistry that we had last year, that we built, between every single guy was amazing. So just to have that back, and the type of quality guys we had on the team back, it means a lot."
There's still the question of how far this team can actually go when stacked up against the rejuvenated Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls. A sense of togetherness is not always going to be enough to survive a Lebron-led onslaught, or the fortress of Thibodeau's acolytes. But the respect felt around the league has started to transform itself into confidence. And while it's all just words now, the Raptors appear ready to put their belief into action.
"It's about the team," said re-signed guard Greivis Vasquez, "I think talent wins games, but when you play together as a team, you can win championships. That's what we're all about right now."