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Five thoughts on Raptors Media Day 2018: Masai, Kyle, and oh yeah, Kawhi

Yesterday was Toronto Raptors Media Day, aka the official kickoff to what promises to be one of the most interesting seasons in franchise history

NBA: Toronto Raptors-Media Day Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Was that the most anticipated Media Day in Toronto Raptors history? I’d have to think so, what with new acquisitions Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green being introduced, new coach Nick Nurse taking over for the winningest coach in franchise history, and Kyle Lowry speaking for the first time publicly since the DeMar DeRozan trade. Oh, and, you know, this being an all-in, Finals-or-bust kinda season.

No big deal at all right? Here are a few thoughts on what I saw from Toronto Raptors Media Day, 2018 version.

Masai’s “believe in your city” rant is an all-timer

So let’s just get this out of the way, because it was my favourite moment of the day, and if this man’s passion for the city of Toronto doesn’t get you fired up, then it’s probably time to move to Calgary or something. Says Masai Ujiri, when asked about the history of players not wanting to come or stay in Toronto:

“The narrative of not wanting to come to this city is gone. That’s old, and we should move past that. Believe in your city, believe in yourselves.”

I got goosebumps watching it, and I’m fired up again writing about it! I already have the Toronto skyline tattooed on my left forearm, and I’m so fired up I’m thinking about getting “believe in your city, believe in yourselves” tattooed right beneath it!

When Ujiri retires, one day in the far distant future, there’s not gonna be a number to hang in the rafters, but how about a “Fuck Brooklyn” banner, a “We don’t give a shit about ‘it’” banner and a “Believe in your city” banner?

Ujiri says he’s not making any hard sell to Kawhi Leonard to stay here; when he comes out and shows his emotions like that, I don’t think he has to.

Kawhi Leonard is a Fun Guy

SO MANY MUSHROOM PUNS. But Media Day is serious business. For teams with new players, Media Day is a day when that team’s fans all become body language experts and Professor X-level mind-readers. “Was that a real smile or a fake one?” “He didn’t make eye contact, it was definitely fake!” “He said he was excited, but his left shoulder was four degrees lower than his right which actually means he can’t wait to leave!”

I’ll join the chorus here. What I see: Kawhi Leonard is clearly not comfortable speaking extemporaneously. He’s well spoken when he does speak, seems like a smart guy, but being in front of a crowd and answering questions from strangers not something he enjoys.

And that’s OK! Yes, it’s part of his job, but he’s not required to love this part of it, or to be any good at it. And I can relate; I’m an introvert, and I was well into my 30s before I could get up in front of a crowd and speak, and even though I do it fairly regularly for work I’m still nervous—especially during any sort of Q&A.

In other words: Nothing we saw at Media Day told us anything about Kawhi Leonard other than that. He was able to smile and laugh, speak the usual platitudes and even offer some almost-profound wisdom (“If you’re looking into the future, you’re gonna trip over the present”). None of it means anything in terms of what we’ll see on the court or what Leonard’s longterm outlook in Toronto is.

But he’s here, he says he’s healthy, so let’s see what happens on the court.

Kyle Lowry is All Business

Did you expect anything other than exactly what you got from Kyle Lowry yesterday? He was animated, short, dismissive, funny, and focused on basketball. In short: He was Kyle Lowry.

Did you really want Kyle to come in and be anything else? To pretend it’s all sunshine and roses, to act like it doesn’t suck that his friend got traded? To throw his pal under the bus by saying this team is better now? Nah. Besides, isn’t surly Kyle Lowry the best Kyle Lowry? How many times has he taken some slight or bad call and used it to fuel a vintage KLOE performance? It’s the same old Kyle Lowry, and I’ll take it every day of the week.

Hey wait, there actually was something new in Lowry’s comments: I have never, ever heard an NBA player refer the NBA championship as “winning the gold ball.” I love it! Now I know what to get tattooed on my other forearm.

Danny Green Made a Great Point About his Role

Green joined Ujiri and Leonard at the podium, and when asked about the makeup of the roster, Green noted that in San Antonio, he was always the young guy on veteran teams. But now, his role in Toronto—as one of only three guys over the age of 30—is to be a veteran and mentor to all of the younger players. That’s a cool transition to watch in a player, and I love the way this roster has shaken out: it’s a great mix of vets, young guys, and guys who have been around but are still in their prime years.

And while no one will replace DeMar DeRozan in terms of being a great quote and all-around good guy, Green looks to be right up there with the more eloquent and thoughtful Raptors; he even came with the jokes, noting that the OVO jerseys are the number one reason he was excited to come and play in Toronto.

This Raptors Team is Still Full of Likeable Guys

DeMar DeRozan is an all-timer on the likability scale, and Jakob Poeltl was a fan-favourite too. And maybe we’ll never really get to know Kawhi Leonard. But this team is still full of fun, engaging personalities. Did you see Delon Wright dressing up in the dreadlocks? Jonas Valanciunas joking about how he and Greg Monroe were gonna kick some ass? OG Anunoby said, like, five consecutive words! C.J. Miles cracked on Leonard leading by example—which he has to, because he doesn’t talk a lot. How about that picture of Fred VanVleet with the sailor hat and Thor’s hammer?!

What happens on the court is ultimately what matters the most, but it sure does make the long season—even a winning season—more interesting to follow when it’s a group of good guys who enjoy playing basketball, enjoy playing for the Raptors and enjoy each other. And that’s what this team is... in fact, you could even say this team is both fun, and good! (But we would never say that here at RaptorsHQ.)


Now that Media Day is behind us, the team will get to work today in Vancouver, and the preseason games will begin on Saturday with a matchup against Portland. Are you feeling the excitement now that the season’s almost here? Hit the comments and tell us what you saw on Media Day, and what you’re looking forward to most over the next couple of weeks!