We all know why Toronto, and Canada as a whole, will be watching tonight’s Raptors game. The man who packed a decade’s worth of great sports memories into one bizarre, magical year, Kawhi Leonard, makes his first return to Toronto tonight, now as a member of the Los Angeles Clippers, to play his old team.
This is not the first time these teams have met, however, as the Raptors travelled to southern California in early November to play the Clippers on the second night of a back-to-back. When the camera first panned to the Clippers bench, I did a double take. The amount of faces familiar to Raptors fans was borderline staggering. Obviously, there was Kawhi, but also Patrick Patterson and Lou Williams. Meanwhile on the coaching staff, there sat Rex Kalamian, a former assistant coach of the Raptors, now in the same role with the Clippers.
The attention tonight will be on Kawhi, and rightfully so, but the other former Raptors deserve recognition in their own right. Let’s take a trip down memory lane and reminisce on their tenures with the team.
Patrick Patterson, PF
Toronto Raptors Tenure: 2013-2017 – 7.6 PTS, 4.8 REB, 1.4 AST
Few embody the evolution of the Toronto Raptors franchise more than Patrick Patterson. Patterson was acquired as part of the trade that sent Rudy Gay to the Sacramento Kings, mere months after the Bargnani Trade and the beginning of Masai Ujiri’s glorious tenure with the team. Drafted 14th overall by the Houston Rockets in 2010 out of the University of Kentucky, Patterson had not really found his footing in the NBA prior to 2013. Over that same stretch, the Raptors were a franchise without direction, not nearly good enough to contend and lacking a promising young core that fans could talk themselves into for the future. As a result, the 2013-14 season was transformative for both the player and the franchise.
Starting that season and continuing through his time with the team, Patterson personified many of the things that are now considered hallmarks of the Raptors franchise. Though he came off the bench, Patterson has a compelling argument as the third most important player on the team behind Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan in his time as a Raptor. He was a versatile defender and a selfless offensive player who made his fair share of big shots and hustle plays.
He was put into a role where he could succeed and developed within that role. Player development has since become a major strength of the team, and that is seen in Patterson. Additionally, Patterson was also often the emotional tone-setter of the team, displaying leadership skills and playing a big part in establishing the winning culture that the Raptors maintain in the present. Finally, he embraced Toronto.
We were so used to players viewing their time in Toronto as a sentence to be served as opposed to an exciting opportunity in the present. Patterson gave Toronto a fair shot, and learned to love it, and Raptors fans, in turn, loved him back. This offseason, Patterson returned to Toronto to get married, reminding us just how strong of a bond he had with the city, and the city with him.
Patterson will never get the credit of Lowry or DeRozan for the franchise becoming what it is, but he was pivotal as it took major steps forward, and he should be remembered accordingly.
Lou Williams, SG
Toronto Raptors Tenure: 2014-2015 season 15.5 PTS, 1.9 REB, 2.1 AST
Lou Williams brought his unique brand of cool to the team when he was traded to Toronto from the Atlanta Hawks in 2014. Playing cool is a strange concept, and impossible to quantify, but some players just give off that vibe when they play. Williams is one such player. Though he only spent one season with the team, Williams became a cultural icon during his time with the team.
On the court, Williams dazzled fans with his cunning, slithery offensive game. Seemingly able to improvise his way to a good shot whenever he wanted, he was often the closer on a team with Lowry and DeRozan. If he ever had the ball with the clock dwindling to the end of a quarter or the game, we watched with bated breath to see how, not if, Williams would put the ball in the net. His efforts earned him a Sixth Man of Year award, his first of three.
His impact on the team was solidified when Drake referenced him in his song “6 man.” Drake’s role in the Raptors’ rise to prominence should not be undersold, as he was genuinely part of making the team relevant and cool on a leaguewide scale — and Sweet Lou, evidently, made his presence felt in that regard as well.
Raptors fans were thrilled by Williams’ on-court play, and intrigued by his well, um, unique lifestyle off of it. Though he may have taken a shot at Toronto in the offseason, I think we can chalk that up to Kawhi recruiting efforts and forgive him. In his short time in Toronto, Williams truly had a memorable run.
Rex Kalamian, Assistant Coach
Toronto Raptors Tenure: 2015-2018
It is difficult to measure the impact of coaching in the NBA, assistant coaching even more so. Kalamian, though, is credited with establishing the defensive prowess of the team during his time on Dwane Casey’s staff — now a staple of the Raptors, so we appreciate his efforts there.
Kalamian also gave some dynamite sideline interviews coming out of halftime, always stressing defensive effort and intensity. Obviously, Kalamian will be the least revered of the former Raptors returning tonight, but it felt right to recognize him and his time with the team.