The thing I learned most in 2016 — well, not learned per se; let’s say absorbed — is that you have to live with your decisions. Sure, random stuff can happen, sometimes things far, far outside of your control can have an effect on you as an individual. But whatever the case, you have to roll with it, take it as it comes, learn how to deal and move on as best you can. I’m not exactly splitting the atom here: this is a part of life.
But other times you make a conscious choice to be one way or the other, to take this step and not that one, to be this person and not someone else. In those moments you can look back and wonder what happened, as various doors close behind you, or you can own it and push on.
One of the traits often praised most in professional athletes is their ability to constantly move forward. Get dunked on? Forget it. Had your shot viciously blocked? Move on. Your team is getting blown out? Keep going. You’re winning comfortably? Still gotta execute. It’s admirable, in a way, to keep up this kind of discipline. It’s why, say, David Foster Wallace had such reverence for tennis and its players. An athlete has to decide quickly and then move on to the next decision. You have to live with your choices, sure, but only as they happen. Then there’s the next play, the next game, and so on and so on.
This is hard to do. So hard in fact, many professional athletes never master it, and never quite scale the heights of their potential because of it. In every day life, filled as it is with choices both big and small, pivot points around which it sometimes feels an entire life — your entire life — can shift, these decisions can take on a monumental presence — both as they happen and after the fact.
In 2016, I, like all of you, decided to be this way, and carried out my life accordingly. Things happened — good and bad — and now I’m here. It’s not easy to forget the past, but we can decide to move into the future, into 2017, with some new understanding.
Let’s hope so anyway.
How about this for a decision though: years ago, the Raptors had the remains of John Salmons on the roster, the man who once spurned them as a free agent, and made a trade with the Hawks. The Raptors got Lou Williams in the deal, and a goofy looking Brazilian (to pair with the other Brazilian on the team, we supposed at the time) named Lucas Nogueira — or, fittingly, Bebe.
We’re here now thankful for the turn of events, but how many decisions actually led up to that moment? Bebe was drafted in June 2013 by the Celtics, traded with others to the Mavericks (for Kelly Olynyk), then traded to the Hawks for Shane Larkin. He finally showed up in Toronto a year later as part of the aforementioned Salmons deal, having not played a single second of NBA basketball.
It’s impossible to know, at any moment over that year, or any moment since, how the Bebe Experience would work out in the future. And I’m sure there were times when the Raptors brass (or management on these other teams), and Bebe himself, felt tremendous uncertainty. Who knew what the future had in store?
Today, Bebe is a certified NBA player. Thank goodness.
If we take anything away from the Raptors of 2016 it’s that they remain outside of the true upper echelon of the NBA. That high level (no pun intended) is occupied solely by the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors. The former has the best player on the planet, the latter a combination of players unique to the league. It’s possible to maybe put other teams in the discussion too, but those two remain head and shoulders above all.
Though the Raptors did manage to beat the Cavaliers a few times this calendar year — without Bebe’s help — the Warriors remain unsolvable to them. Decisions made years ago, to draft Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross, to trade for Kyle Lowry and Nogueira, to sign DeMarre Carroll and re-sign DeMar DeRozan, have led them to this point. Yes, they are a clear step or two behind the league’s powers, but they’ve climbed closer and closer with each iteration. The organization has improved, and learned, and ultimately tried its best given the choices collectively made.
Sometimes, as much as we hate to hear this, it is just not enough. Part of life is hearing that, absorbing it, and keeping on anyway. So, with all that’s happened in 2016, we turn now to 2017.
Level of High Level
The Raptors sit at 22-9 right now, which is actually better than the 20-13 mark they had at the end of 2015. (With one game left tonight, they’ll have a better record regardless.) The hopes we had for Nogueira last season have paid off, and he’s become a useful (and improving!) bench player for the Raptors.
High Level Result: 8 out of 10 — Some decisions do pay off in a good way. And not to simplify things too much, but sometimes you have to take the good with the bad.