When I told my wife on Thursday evening about the moves the Raptors made, shipping out five guys, essentially for one, her first reaction was, “so are you gonna write five thoughts on the five ex-Raptors?” I wasn’t, but it was clearly a brilliant idea, so here we are. Let’s get right to it!
As I joked the other day, Malachi’s biggest “contribution” seems to have been freeing Bruno Caboclo to spread his wings across the NBA landscape. Richardson was acquired for Caboclo before last year’s deadline in a cost-cutting move, so it was unfortunate that he suffered the same fate this year. But Richardson just couldn’t find the range as an NBA player; his role, essentially, was to fill out the bench, spell guys for brief moments at the end of quarters or garbage time, and hit open shots when they came his way. Since he couldn’t do that, well, it’s hard to justify keeping him around.
So I can’t say I’ll miss Richardson, but of course, hope that he finds success elsewhere in the NBA.
I don’t think many Raptors fans are gonna miss Greg Monroe. Raptors Twitter was definitely not a fan, but, as I’ve said in a couple different places, I think he did his job just fine while he was here. Sure, the Raptors were decidedly worse with Monroe on the court versus Serge Ibaka or Jonas Valanciunas, but, isn’t that to be expected from your third-string centre? Monroe wasn’t brought in here to be the primary backup, he was here for short-term foul trouble and injury insurance; certainly no one expected him to be a thrust into a major role for two full months! I suppose you could argue that Moose didn’t make the most of his opportunity, but I suspect he simply is what he is at this point in his career. He also seems to be a good teammate by all accounts, always laughing and smiling on the bench and accepting whatever is asked of him.
I suspect Monroe will continue to find good work as a deep bench guy, though his opportunities to contribute meaningful minutes to a contender may be limited.
When the Raptors signed C.J. Miles before the 2017-18 season, it seemed like a perfect fit. The Raptors were all about their “culture reset,” which meant opening up the offense and sharing the ball and shooting more threes. Miles was a gunner who could light it up from deep, a good teammate and a strong veteran presence for a young bench group.
And he filled that role admirably last season, the best regular season in Raptors history. His shot was a little streakier than we all would have liked, but, its hard to complain about the overall result, as “Bench Dad” led the “Bench Mob” to become one of the best five-man groups in the entire league.
But we all know what happened this season. Miles appeared in the latest GoDaddy campaign (which, presumably, will mercifully be put out to pasture now) and the GoDaddy Curse struck down pretty much all of his effectiveness, despite his coming into camp in excellent shape. He struggled to hit his three point shots, and in turn often tried to force the issue by attacking off the dribble, disrupting the Raptors’ offensive flow. Because Miles seems like such a likeable, down-to-earth guy, we all felt for him during his slump, and he clearly wore it hard. Thankfully, he had recently started to emerge from the slump — just as the team got healthy and his minutes disappeared. The trade is probably the best thing to happen to him.
Off the court, C.J. and wife Lauren (who was a super-fun Twitter follow) also memorably starred in an Open Gym episode last season about the birth of their daughter Ava, an episode followed up on this year at Ava’s first birthday. C.J. and his family will definitely be missed!
What to make of Delon Wright? He’s 26 years old, heading into restricted free agency, and has missed time every year due to various injuries. He hasn’t developed a consistent outside shot, or turned into a strong pick-and-roll playmaker.
But with Wright, it was all the other stuff we loved about him. His defense, sticking those long arms into passing lanes, deflecting balls and causing turnovers. It was the herky-jerky dribble drives, where you never knew what way he was gonna go — and he didn’t seem to, either, until the last minute, when he’d lay a ball high off the glass and through the cup. And the euro-steps! And the blocks! There are so many fun aspects to his game, it made him a real treat to watch.
Unfortunately that unpredictability left him as a bit of an odd-man out on this team. It was fairly clear that, although he was better served taking a bigger share of running the offense while Fred VanVleet played more off the ball, the coaching staff didn’t trust Wright to take that role. And he doesn’t seem to be as much of a pure scorer as Norman Powell, so he wasn’t a great fit as a full-time off guard either. And with restricted free agency coming up Wright was always the most likely candidate to move.
Wright was part of last year’s Bench Mob, and was one of the team’s “young veterans” along with Powell, Pascal Siakam and VanVleet — guys who came to the team after long college careers with low expectations, who have developed into solid (or better) players, and generally good people too. It’s always sad to see such players go, but, hey. We’ll always have Game Six.
I can’t lie, all of the wonderful things being said about Jonas Valaciunas by the team and the media have made me well up more than once. All those pictures of him from the draft, and his first year with the team, where he looks like he’s about 14 or 15 years old... oh man, it got dusty around here real fast.
Valanciunas was such a fascinating player. An unknown European who stayed overseas an extra year, a traditional low-post presence who started to blossom just as the game moved away from that role, who was asked to get bigger and then get slimmer, but all the while continued to refine his game and add to his skillset... I mean, there was a time we all thought his contract was terrible and that he’d never live up to it or that the team would be able to trade it, and yet the team just traded it for a guy making almost twice as much.
It continues to mystify many Raptors fans exactly why the team had so little trust in JV. He rarely played fourth quarters even though his rebounding and general offensive efficiency would seem to be boons for a team that often struggled in the clutch. He was consistently blamed for the team’s inability to defend wing players, as he was too slow-footed to keep up with them on switches — even though the defensive numbers didn’t paint nearly so dire a picture. Yet he was still very successful, and continually worked on his game and improved. I don’t think anyone thinks he didn’t live up to his contract at this point.
(Also: Look at that damn photo up there. Jonas was fouled, it should’ve been an and-1. Alas!)
Basically, Valanciunas’ career as a Raptors is all over the map. And he’s still just 26!
Of all the players traded last week, it doesn’t seem to be a contest which one Raptors fans will miss the most — even though he’s the one whose position the team (most likely) upgraded. Jonas was the team jokester, always good for a laugh or a hug, and a guy that played hard every damn minute. What more could you ask of a player? He was a consummate pro. And I hope he finds a good role in Memphis, where he could figure into their rebuilding plans as a key piece next to Jaren Jackson Jr.
Bonus thought: Have the Raptors sold too much of their soul?
It’s a business, so the saying goes. You cheer for laundry.
Sure. But can’t there be a little more to it than that? It really saddens me that of the guys who started this run back in 2014-2015, only one player, Kyle Lowry, remains. We saw DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas grow from teenagers to adults with this team, we saw Dwane Casey go from well-thought-of-assistant to head coach of the year. Those four led Toronto to unprecedented success... and now we’ve moved on from 75% of them.
It’s all in the name of winning, of course, which is hard to complain about! And I know that team had run its course. And, if you win a title, I expect these things are quickly forgotten... but I don’t think they should be, not completely. The journey — the teams you cheered for, the players you supported, the moments, good and bad, along the way — should matter.
I suppose I just hope that, when (!) the Raptors raise the Larry O’Brien trophy in June, we look at the victory as having been achieved not because we traded way Jonas, and Delon, and DeMar and everyone else, but because of the work and the contributions they all put in to help them achieve the success it has had.