After the Raptors won the 2019 NBA Championship — which totally happened, by the way — part of the joy was in thinking about and then seeing each member of the title team claim their golden rings. On the night of the celebration, there were Toronto stalwarts Kyle Lowry and Norman Powell, relative newcomer Marc Gasol, returning end-of-benchers Eric Moreland and Jodie Meeks, well-heeled staffer Alex McKechnie, coaches from Nick Nurse on down, and more. Everyone got their moment in the limelight.
There was a question in the air though: what of the three players who spent more than half of the 2018-19 season with the Raptors? Do Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright, and C.J. Miles, the trio traded for Gasol at February’s deadline, also get championship rings?
Per a report from the Toronto Sun’s Mike Ganter, the answer is an unequivocable and resounding: no.
The news comes to us from Dallas where Ganter managed to buttonhole Raptors GM Bobby Webster on the matter. This after Wright had confirmed that he had not heard mention of any ring coming his way. As told to Ganter, Webster had this to say:
“Its not an easy decision, but, to be honest, I think it’s standard. I mean we did our homework, we talked to teams and I think — I don’t remember — there was maybe one scenario where a team offered one. I think it was Anderson Varejao in Golden State but I think it was a really unique circumstance.”
That “unique circumstance” with the Warriors came about after Shaun Livingston was injured during the 2016-17 season. The team needed another guard, and, though they didn’t want to, were forced to waive Varejao to make room on the roster to bring in Briante Weber. The Warriors went on to win the 2017 title, and then held an in-house vote to decide if Varejao should get a ring. It was decided he’d earned it.
Does the situation in Toronto fall under the same “unique circumstance”? Where indeed should the Raptors draw the line here?
Obviously, it feels somehow incorrect for Valanciunas to not receive a championship ring. He laboured for the Raptors for 6.5 seasons, doing everything the organization asked of him — get bigger, run faster, play smarter, shoot from three, come off the bench — in order to help them succeed. Yes, Gasol was the centre the team truly needed to get over the hump, but that’s no black mark on Valanciunas’ resume. He tried his best.
The cases for Wright and Miles are a little trickier. On the one hand, Delon was in his fourth season in Toronto, and appeared in 49 games that year, making steady contributions throughout. He didn’t really raise the Raptors’ ceiling all that much, but someone had to play those 18-20 minutes a night. On the other hand, Miles was in just year two and also in the midst of a pronounced slump; there’s no nice way to say this but at the time of the Gasol trade, Miles was merely included to make the salary numbers work. It’s harsh, but that’s the NBA.
What this discourse reveals is exactly the line of thinking Webster and the Raptors used when deciding who gets a ring and who doesn’t: either every discarded player from 2018-19 gets one, or none of them do. And as Ganter reveals in his report, Webster was obviously uncomfortable about the whole situation because, well, he probably didn’t want to have to talk to anyone about not getting a ring. “No, I mean you could easily start that and then where does it stop, right?,” Webster said. “They are no right lines here so I think it just kind of it is what it is.”
This will all likely be drawn as a bad PR move for the Raptors, and in truth, I get it. It wouldn’t have cost much for the billion dollar MLSE organization to spend a few bucks and toss a ring over to Valanciunas — who was reportedly excited about the idea — or even Wright and Miles. It would have made for a nice feel-good story during a long regular season.
That said, I also understand Webster’s concern here. How far back do the Raptors have to go in judging someone’s contributions to their 2019 championship victory? The 14 active players on the roster got a ring, Jordan Loyd got one despite being playoff ineligible (he still made contributions during the postseason), the coaches and staff all got one — even if some were not the same top tier rings the players received. No one is questioning any of those decisions.
What’s more, no one’s asking after the likes of Greg Monroe, who appeared in 38 games for Toronto (before, yes, competing against them on the Sixers). And no one expects the Raptors to offer one to DeMar DeRozan, despite his role in shaping the team’s current era. Meanwhile, if the Raps called Dwane Casey I’m sure he would hang up the phone in disgust at the mere suggestion of a sympathy ring. (We’ll set aside the whole issue of Nav Bhatia getting a ring; that could actually be seen as a “unique circumstance” but if you want my opinion, I’m not sure he should have gotten one.)
As rough as it is to say this, and as much as I root for most former Toronto players, I think the Raptors made the right decision here. If you were part of the Raptors organization that pushed into the postseason during April, May, and June of 2019, you deserve a ring. End of story.
The only thing worse is giving Drake a championship ring, and then watching him somehow act even more insufferable about it.
Correction: A previous version of this post said the Raptors did not officially give Drake a ring. Sadly, this is not the case. We regret this error — on every possible level.