Training camp during the 2001-02 season was unlike any in the Raptors’ history to that point. They were coming off of their best-ever season, having come within one shot of the Eastern Conference Finals, and spent their best-ever offseason very loudly retaining their own.

Fifteen years later, the Raptors are again coming off of their best-ever season, having come within two wins of the NBA Finals, but this time, despite again having their best-ever offseason, it was about as quiet an achievement as this team has ever managed.

For those who are too young to remember, 2001 was the first time that Toronto basketball became a thing in Toronto. It was Vince Carter’s third year with the club, but it was his first an international superstar, thanks to his historic performance in the slam dunk competition in Oakland that February. That, combined with the team’s then-best 47-win season and incredible seven-game second round series against Allen Iverson and the 76ers, brought massive positive attention to a club that had, to that point, been mostly an embarrassment to anyone who really cared that they existed at all.

The team had also done this despite losing Damon Stoudamire and Tracy McGrady within 29 months of each other.

All of that added up to what was sure to be an intense offseason. At the time, the Raptors had three key free agents in play: All-Star Antonio Davis, starting point guard Alvin Williams and sixth-man Jerome Williams. It was also the first window that the team had to negotiate a contract extension with Carter. The popular opinion was the Raptors were likely to lose at least two of those free agents to competing offers, and no one was sure why Carter would tie his future to a franchise as historically inept as the Raptors. Despite the team’s recent success, the memory of Stoudamire and McGrady felt even more immediate. Plus, no one was even sure that the organization was all that interested in investing any real money in this club. So much was still unknown about how this team would handle their first bout of success, and so most Toronto fans expected the worst.

Then, like shots ringing out in the distance, came the news: Raptors re-sign Davis. Raptors re-sign both Williams’. Raptors extend Vince Carter. The organization laid out a ton of cash, but they didn’t lose a single member of their core. The statement they were making was clear: they were in this for real.

Of course, history has not been kind to the memories of that summer. They also laid out a ton of cash to sign an over-the-hill Hakeem Olajuwon, and all of those salaries put together left the team with little wiggle room to improve, and so the team started making poor roster decisions to compensate and that ultimately led to none of those players finishing their contracts in Toronto.

The problem was almost unavoidable. The Raptors needed to make the statement that they were not the kind of team was indifferent to their successes. They wanted to be taken seriously, and that meant showing that they had the interest and the wherewithal to keep their key players. Back then, the surest way to do that was to overpay (save for Carter, whose max contract was obviously deserved). Glen Grunwald, then the team’s GM, obviously believed that the team’s success would continue, but even he had to know that financial predicament he was putting himself in if even one thing went wrong (in fact, several things went wrong, including Olajuwon being toast, Alvin Williams and Carter becoming injury problems, the team’s veterans moving on, etc.).

All that said, the Raptors aren’t where they are today were it not for the summer of 2001. The signal that summer sent, especially in their ability to extend Carter, made people sit up and take this organization seriously. Yes, they were still bad for a number of years thereafter, and that undid some of the progress, but this is where the march to 2016 started, and what allowed the team to have their best summer ever as an organization in the quietest way possible.

Look at what happened this summer: the Raptors re-signed their head coach (the most successful in team history) to a new deal, and it was expected. They locked-in their stellar front office to new deals, and it was expected. They not only re-signed their second-best player but they did so without him even taking an interview with another team, as expected. They saw their two best players selected to play on Team USA for the Olympics and win gold medals, not expected, but also not jaw-dropping news.

All of that, and yet barely more than a peep about how this is easily the best summer this organization has ever had. They didn’t need to parachute in a saviour because they were already two games away from the NBA Finals. They didn’t need to hit a home run in the draft because they already have a solid, deep roster. Are they perfect? No, they could definitely stand to improve in a league where Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry play on the same team, but they managed to fortify just about every corner of their club with no one thinking too much of it.

There are two areas that are particularly worth point out as evidence of how much things have changed since 2001.

The first is stability. Not just on the roster, which continues to pay dividends as the roster now routinely outperforms preseason analytical predictions, but up top and on the sidelines, as well. When Casey was first hired by Bryan Colangelo, he spoke often of culture. He was certainly not the first hire in Raptors history to lean heavily on a clearly absent element in the organization, but he has been the first to actually see a meaningful culture implemented. That came from stability. That came from a front office that allowed him to make mistakes and learn from them. That came from players understanding that he wasn’t going anywhere, and so they had better buy in. That came from Masai Ujiri targeting players and personalities that fit that culture, and then sticking around to ensure that it is enforced from the top of the food chain on down. There is actually a sense now of what a player can expect if they wind up in a Raptors uniform. A bizarre phrase like “We The North” actually means something. There is accountability. There are expectations. There is pride. It’s happened so gradually it can be easy to overlook the meaning of that reality. This summer the club took stock of where they were and they very quietly and purposefully said “yes, more of that, please.”

The second area worth looking closer at is confidence. The reason the Raptors signed Olajuwon back in 2001 is because they felt they had to. They felt that they had to have someone that would allow Antonio Davis to slide down to power forward. They felt that they had to acquire someone to show the world that they could attract a Hall of Fame name (if not a prime Hall of Fame talent). They repeated these missteps again and again with Jalen Rose, Hedo Turkoglu, Jermaine O’Neal, and the failed attempt at signing Steve Nash. These were pursuits made not from a position of strength, but fear.

This summer, the Raptors didn’t make two moves, and they showed a tremendous amount of resolve in their actions (inactions?). They didn’t trade for Serge Ibaka and they didn’t mortgage the farm to re-sign Bismack Biyombo.

Ibaka was an obvious target for the Raptors, a defensive-minded power forward that could slide in perfectly alongside Jonas Valanciunas. However, the Oklahoma City Thunder wanted Cory Joseph, Norman Powell, Patrick Patterson and the 9th pick in the draft. That’s nearly the entire bench rotation plus a top-ten pick for a guy slated to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year. There was a time when the Raptors would have jumped at the chance to make that deal, but they are in a place right now where they simply don’t feel that they need to take these wild swings in order to be successful.

Biyombo was a different case. He was a massive fan favourite coming off of the bench last year. However, the Raptors did not possess his Bird Rights, which would have meant that they’d need to shed a ton of salary in order to retain him (at least Patterson and Ross). Now, had the Raptors done so, it would have raised some eyebrows, but given what some big men signed for this summer, and given Biyombo’s impact last season, one can envision a scenario where Toronto makes the choice to keep him no matter what. They didn’t do that, though. They felt that a backup centre was simply not worth given up two assets for, especially not when his new salary would have killed their flexibility going forward. It was painful to see him go, but the Raptors believed they could afford to, both on the court and in the hearts and minds of their fans.

That’s simply something the team couldn’t afford to do in 2001. Even if it would have been better for the roster, it would not have been better for the organization, which was still searching for respectability amongst their own fans, as well as the league at large. Fifteen years later, though, as the team team enters training camp in the unfamiliar position of having very little to prove, they can relish in their ability to make roster-first choices without having to worry about fallout from fans. That doesn’t happen without having gone through 2001 — despite the decline that it precipitated. This is what success looks like for the Raptors, now: quiet and expected.


  • wtf 8838

    Halellujah! Tim Chisholm has seen the light. Very insightful piece.

    No more, “….I told ya so, we should have tanked for Wiggins” articles
    No more “….Masai is risk-averse” articles

    This is what success looks like. Welcome back from the dark-side, Tim.

    (insert GIF of the Lebron James “Silencer” celebration here).

    • BlakeMurphy

      I think you might be confusing Tim C for Tim W. Tim C has generally been one of the most supportive voices of Ujiri’s tenure while writing here.

      • wtf 8838

        Oops, you’re right. My bad. Go Tim!

      • jakdripr

        Lol thanks for clearing that up, I also thought this was the “we shoulda tanked for Wiggins” Tim.

  • Nilanka15

    Raps won 47 games in 2001, not 48.

    • Noelle

      Well that just changes the essence of the article, now doesn’t it. smh

      • Nilanka15

        Lol, please show me where I made any mention of “changing the essence of the article”, smart ass.

        Just pointing out a type-o.

        • diggs

          That’s “typo”.

          😉

        • Noelle

          That’s the point. Irrelevant nit-picking toward a very good article

          • Nilanka15

            Fact-checking, not nit-picking.

            • Noelle

              correcting someone on an irrelevant fact makes some peoples’ day I guess. I’m happy for you.

              • Nilanka15

                Going on and on about said “irrelevant fact” seems important to you, does it?

                Pot, meet kettle.

  • Suren Kiru

    VC was in the dunk contest in February of 2000, not 2001

    • Tim Chisholm

      I should have caught this considering it was the first Dunk Contest I ever attended, but you are totally right.

  • Rjak27

    I agree with the sentiment. Though, last offseason was pretty damn good, too.

    The team was on the precipice after being swept by Washington. Management read the tea leaves perfectly and brought in exactly the right players in Joseph, Carroll, Powell and Biyombo. Scola’s veteran presence I think was underrated. And, we’ll see what Delon brings to the table, though I think he’s going to be a good one.

    I’m excited for the season ahead. After outperforming preseason projections three years in a row it would be foolish to bet against this team.

  • NATHAN AGUDA

    Great post, just wanted to drop that compliment

  • diggs

    Great article, and good job in focusing on the two best non-moves of the Raptors this summer: not trading for Ibaka, and not throwing away good contracts for a bad one in Biyombo (I love the guy, but no team taking on that contract for a backup C will be a winner).

    These two non-moves look like no-brainers, but there were an awful lot of pundits attacking Masai for not doing something, anything to get Ibaka. Thank goodness Masai doesn’t listen to them.

  • raptorfan07

    Right……. keep passing the green koolaid. One of Masai’s worst offseasons, i expect us still to be good but take a step backwards. The Knicks/Pacers made the biggest leaps forward.

    • diggs

      watch what you drink: The only people drinking “the Koolaid” are those who demand major changes at the expense of continuity, sane cap management, and positive growth.
      Yep, you’ve been drinking too much of that Koolaid… the rest of us are taking it easy, sipping on some relaxing tea, and kicking back with confidence in the way the team is being built.

      • raptorfan07

        Keeping drinking dude you will need an extra glass when the defense dips this season and we cannot just go out and outscore teams. Teams in the east are much stronger and deeper.

    • Mike$

      Who cares that the Knicks stepped forward? They went from a garbage team to somewhat less of, but still a garbage team.

      Pacers improved from a 7th seed, but are still likely a first round exit.

      • Noelle

        The “Masai signed himself” tells you the intellect of the lad. Too bad he infects here so often.

        • Mike$

          It would be a pretty boring site if everyone agreed about everything. Well he does get a bit out of hand with the insults (as do some other people), I don’t mind hearing a different opinion. Its interesting to see why people think taking a risk on Noah or Rose is worth it.

          Would also be interested on why he likes the pacers so much. Well i agree that they took a step forward, I don’t see why its a big deal. They sacrificed a lot of what made them good last year (defence) to get better offensively. Even offensively they will most likely struggle anytime the pace slows down. Ellis and Thad aren’t very good in the half court and will probably choke spacing to make it easy to collapse on drives to the rim. Ellis is a terrible defender who really needs the ball in his hands to be effective and teague will take a lot of the responsibilities he had last year. I can see him taking a huge step back production wise next year, though efficiency should increase with teague helping to provide easy looks, and a faster pace provides easier transition buckets.

          Faster play and better offence will mean a better season for the pacers, but when the pace slows down and intensity picks up in the playoffs it’ll be tough for them to get buckets and they lost most of there defensive players this year. Much easier out in the playoffs imo

          Edit: Really didn’t mean boring site, meant boring comment section. The RR staff put out amazing articles daily and it is my go to spot for raptors news and a good read! Keep up the good work

      • raptorfan07

        I think they added established players to go along with Melo, this will not be an easy to beat. As for the Pacers they too added some established NBA players to go along with George. Both teams will be tougher to beat.

      • Adriiian

        I agree. Not sure who really fears Derrick Rose these days.. Or Noah for that matter. That bulls team however… What an odd team to look at. Wade and Rondo in Bulls red? Crazy.

        • raptorfan07

          I would include the Bulls in that conversation, the theme hear is all these teams made moves and we did not. Does anyone really expect Bebe to step in for the loss of Biyombo.

          • Mike$

            So your saying the Knicks are better because they gained Noah and Rose, and the Bulls should be better because they lost Noah and Rose. They are making moves but im not sure how you consider the move good or not. Moves just for moves might not be good.

            And i expect Sully to step in and fill Biz’s shoes (in a different way) not bebe. When biz came to us last year he wasn’t nearly as good as sully was.

          • Noelle

            lol, they made moves, but shitty to meh ones. Knicks add Rose and Noah, neither of whom is half the player they once were,,,,, and can’t even stay on the court. Bulls happened to let these two walk, but they’re going to be much better because they added hobbling Wade, and nut job Rondo,,,,,,, the worst shooting back court in the league,,,,, okay then.

            Loss of a backup C who was only good at one end of the floor? The sky is falling!!! Now to use your terminology, “does anyone really expect”:
            – that JV won’t be better than last year? his performance in the playoffs says different.
            – that DC won’t provide MUCH more than last season? could argue that’s an addition right there
            – that Sully won’t be leaps and bounds better than Scola? or do you choose to ignore the addition?
            – that DeMar won’t come back with an improved game in some area or two? He does every year, so….. and Casey says that based on first day of camp, DD is on another level defensively. Surprised?
            – that Norm, Ross, CoJo won’t be better?

            Maybe too young to identify with yet, but sometimes the best move is no move at all,,,,,,,,,,,,,, especially when you have a big picture, long term growth, mindset a la MU,,,,,,,,,,,, but you want BC style quick fix “make a move” bullshit back?

            • Lans

              Yours is an accurate view of the situation.
              Go Raptors Go

        • Mike$

          Not scared of the bulls either. Rondo has been looking to prove himself for a long time and hasn’t been able to since he left the celtics. The bulls have some brutal spacing. The starters of Rondo, Wade, Butler, mirotic and Lopez have 1 real 3pt threat. Rondo was able to get all those assists with the help of tremendous spacing by allen and peirce, and even KGs mid range game helped.

          The bulls have some great guards but i don’t think they mesh well. Both Butler and wade are best in the posts and Rondo is best in the pick and roll surrounded by shooters. They have a lot of talent though which is intriguing. If Mirotic and Portis become more consistent i’d be more worried. They are just so mismatching stylistically and so much has to go right for them to be good. I just don’t think enough will go right for this experiment to work out.

          I have the hornets, pacers, Atlanta, and the pistons ahead of them along with the cavs, raps and celtics of course.

    • Sinbad

      The Knicks and Pacers did sign proven, veteran talent that could cause headaches for whomever they draw in the playoffs. The trouble is getting to the playoffs healthy. Indiana will have an easier time of that; Paul George can carry a team through the regular season and nearly beat the Raptors on his own. The Knicks, however, could suffer some slumps given how injury prone Noah and Rose are. We’ll see.

      • Mike$

        For the knicks I wouldn’t even say the trouble is getting to the playoffs healthy. The trouble will be getting to the playoffs period.

        Even when healthy Rose has been a well below average point guard since his injury. Even Noah is most known for his locker room presence nowadays, not his defense. Not much of an upgrade over lopez at all, but he’s more of a risk. Even completely healthy this team will struggle to get to the playoffs. They’re not much different from the bulls last year except Jimmy butler is a better player than melo,

        If they make the playoffs though they could be one of the more scary 8th seeds. Melo could get hot for a few games and make anyone sweat.

        • raptorfan07

          Always easier to win in the playoffs when you have an elite star, should Rose and Noah be healthy this team could be more then a 8th seed.

          • RapFan3009

            Sorry…Indiana might be better than last year, but not the Knicks.

            I mean D Rose are already bringing problems to team before the season even started with his gang rape case. If he is proven guilty, then expect him not to play for the Knicks this year. Noah is a great locker room guy and played with a lot of heart, but his injuries has made him looked like a shell of himself. Melo is one of the best offensive scorer in the game right now (especially with those ISO’s), but his defense is still suspect.

            • raptorfan07

              We shall see, my point is that doing nothing and expecting growth within your team is a tough way to improve.

              • Noelle

                Actually quite the opposite. When you have youth on your side, as in 10 players 25 or younger, and a good development program in place, which the Raps have been giving a lot of focus, it’s the easiest and most controllable & sustainable way to improve.

              • RapFan3009

                Agreed that it will be tougher to expect major improvement from internal growth, but I think this off season has made it harder for Masai to make a “Make or Break” move because the market was so flush with cap space.

                From a chemistry and cultural point of view, I think it is safer to do nothing and continue with internal growth and wait and see from there. Because with this roster, if Masai makes a Major move and it went sideways or downhill, we just repeated the never ending cycle that we have in the past.

      • raptorfan07

        I agree with everything you said, health will even be a concern with us. Carroll’s health worries me at his age and history the past two seasons. I would say that both Melo & George give those two teams elite level players that we do not have.

  • Dan Thomerson

    7 years for a 28 year old Jerome Williams. Not quite at the Yogi Stewart level of overpaying, but pretty bad nonetheless.

  • Help

    Great article, but…:

    “For those who are too young to remember, 2001 was the first time that Toronto basketball became a thing in Toronto.”

    I’m plenty old to remember 2001 and also think it was a ‘thing’ to watch Stoudamire v. Jordan in the ‘skydome’.

  • Nadeem

    Not that the raptors need to make any moves but I was seeing the heats are looking to release Chris bosh over issues about his health. I personally rather have Chris on a veteran minium if he can play then some no name 16th man on the roster.

    • diggs

      Ego says no. This team belongs to Kyle and Demar, and there’s no way a former leader would help the locker room, or the court. Why bring a giant ego with baggage in as your 15th man? (not to speak of the fact he’s not cleared to play anyways)

  • troy

    I’d say the loss of biyombo will cost this team approx 8-10 wins, especially if Jonas gets hurt again,,,hopefully their 2nd round pick can bring a bit of what biyombo brought

    • Rjak27

      You mean Siakam? He was their first round pick. The Raps didn’t have a second round pick this year. They had two firsts.

      Sullinger, Nogueira, Poeltl and Siakam will all get a shot at playing the 5. Someone will step up.

      Estimating Biyombo as worth 8-10 wins I think is very generous. The team got 49 wins the year before without him. They also added Joseph, Carroll and Powell at the same time as Biz, so those guys have to get some of the credit. Especially Joseph who played way more minutes than Biz did.

      • troy

        my bad, youre right he was their first rounder,,, with regards biyombo, none of those guys you mentioned can bring close to what biyombo brought on the defensive end, I look back to how many blocks he had resulting from raps giving up blow by after blow by,,,he changed the defensive identity on that team, and made that team tougher to play against, Im just worried the raps will lose a bit of their edge,,,but I guess we shall see,,,Im prediciting around 47 wins for them based on this

      • tb

        my bad, youre right he was their first rounder,,, with regards biyombo, none of those guys you mentioned can bring close to what biyombo brought on the defensive end, I look back to how many blocks he had resulting from raps giving up blow by after blow by,,,he changed the defensive identity on that team, and made that team tougher to play against, Im just worried the raps will lose a bit of their edge,,,but I guess we shall see,,,Im prediciting around 47 wins for them based on this

  • Mike

    Kudos to Masai for not making an all in move or mortgaging financial flexibility and youth. If Colengolo was in charge he would have reached and overpaid for a fringe player or two…reminicing on the time that he paid for Kapono who just came from a championship or Hedo who just led the Magic to the finals. If still in charge I could see him offering the max to JR Smith.