It’s opening night for the Raptors at the ACC this eve, and of course we’re all working our way towards the appropriate level of turnt-ness required. The Raptors are looking to build on a season that saw them journey all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals. For a franchise with only one (five game) playoff series win to its name, this was quite an accomplishment. And this is to say nothing of the three (and probable fourth) straight playoff appearances. Boy howdy, what a team.
But before Raptors vs. Pistons tonight, Josh Lewenberg of TSN pointed out a truly awesome Raptors feat. It’s an accomplishment that may never be topped. Peep this:
DeMarre Carroll will become the Raptors' first SF to start on opening night in back-to-back seasons since Vince Carter did it from 2003-04— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) October 26, 2016
That’s correct, it’s been 12 years — a dozen! — since the Raptors had the same small forward start in two consecutive home openers. In those 12 years, from the heyday of Vincent Lamar Carter, the Raptors have trotted out 11 different players in that position, before settling on DeMarre Carroll for the foreseeable future.
Oh, it seems impossible? Well... have a look at this.
November 3, 2004 - Vince Carter starts at small forward for the Raptors. They beat the Houston Rockets 95-88 on the way to a 33-49 season. Carter would be traded from the team before the end of the year. It was, uh, a big deal at the time.
November 2, 2005 - In a close 99-96 loss to the Washington Wizards, bodybuilder Joey Graham starts at small forward for the Raptors. (I’m working under the assumption Jalen Rose was the SG; that’s fair, right?) Graham would hang on with the Raptors for four seasons, driving approximately 2,156 local basketball fans mad in the process.
November 1, 2006 - Vince Carter leads the New Jersey Nets to a 102-92 victory over the Raptors. Morris Peterson starts at SF. Fans, who generally do not enjoy dramatic irony — or irony in any context, really — are not pleased.
October 31, 2007 - The Raptors shift Anthony Parker over to small forward in a 106-97 win over the Sixers. Not sure how this team, fresh off a 47-35 season the previous year, fell apart with Jason Kapono and Andrea Bargnani in the starting lineup. Mystifying.
October 29, 2008 - The Raptors beat the Sixers again, 95-84, with the immortal Jamario Moon as their starting small forward. In case you’re unfamiliar: Moon made it to the NBA at 27 and was out of the league by 31.
October 28, 2009 - Despite having both LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neal (old version) in their starting lineup, the Raptors beat the Cavaliers 101-91. The starting small forward? Hedo Turkoglu! Perhaps one of the most amazingly bad signings/recoveries in the modern era. Never has a career fallen apart faster. So happy I got to see it happen live. What a treat. Moving on.
October 27, 2010 - Having learned nothing, the Raptors employ Linas Kleiza as their starting small forward in a 98-93 loss to the Knicks. He never managed more than 49 games in a season for the next three years — all with the Raptors of course. (Side note: Landry Fields shot 50 percent in this game for 11 points. Remember the name.)
December 26, 2011 - Another opener against the Cavaliers, and another win. This time it was — [checks paper][checks it again][checks it a third time] — Rasual Butler getting the start. The LeBron-less Cavs never stood a chance, losing 104-96. The dawn of a new era?
October 31, 2012 - Tough one here, as the Raptors open the season with a 90-88 loss to the Pacers. Did you remember Landry Fields? Of course you did; he started this one. Fields also had just signed an exorbitantly large contract as part of some weird gambit on the part of general manager Bryan Colangelo to get Steve Nash. Don’t think too hard about it now. Anyway, Fields went 0-for-6 on the night for... zero points.
October 30, 2013 - Comeback here by the Raptors as they not only win the game (a 93-87 victory over the Celtics), they do it with Rudy Gay in the starting small forward spot. This was the dude who averaged 19.5 points and 6.8 rebounds in his first 33 games as a Raptor. Big things. Well, uh... about that...
October 29, 2014 - The Saviour Gay turned into a bunch of very useful bench parts, which turned into a good season, which turned into a 109-102 win here over the Hawks. Terrence Ross is your starter for the night.
October 28, 2015 - Finally, we arrive at last season, DeMarre Carroll, and the answers to all our prayers. Now, about that surgically repaired knee...
So there you have it. Twelve remarkable years, 12 remarkable players, twelve remarkable turns of fate. The Raptors starting small forward position... it’s been [long sigh] something.