As you approach certain points in your Life, occasionally things that worked at optimal level no longer function in the same way.
Having turned the page on another chapter in my existence recently only served to reinforce what was readily evident to me before:
Spending time in quiet reflection and in appreciation of the love and respect shown on my special day, I luxuriated in the notion that, though it seems I possess more past than future, The Moment needed embracing so much more than thoughts of former glories or potential new ones.
How had I gotten here?
Not asking how I got to Toronto; that is an entirely different conversation.
The question is rooted more in how I had arrived at the point in my Life where re-calibration wasn’t necessarily seen as a major overhaul, but more a tune up for continued prosperity and stability.
I do recall, however, the first time I was in the city as an adult doing something with basketball, it was in 1995 and this guy was donning Raptor purple.
A season later and with another number one draft pick in tow, the 1996 College Player of the Year, Marcus Camby, the potential for greatness was being built.
The future looked bright for the young expansion franchise north of the 49th Parallel.
At least that’s how the story was supposed to go, according to some.
Injuries, spotty coaching, lax leadership and the top players looking for an out seemed to damn the Dinos.
But after drafting a sleepy-eyed prep star named Tracy McGrady in the team’s third draft and subsequently acquiring T-Mac’s similarly explosive and talented cousin Vincent Lamar Carter two drafts later, could that bright future originally promised on selecting Stoudemire and Camby finally become realized in the short life of the organization?
The turn of the century brought the Raptors its inaugural playoff visit, albeit brief, getting swept in the first round.
Free agency led to T-Mac finding his stride as an NBA star in his home state with the Orlando Magic, leaving Carter to fend for himself against GraduationGate.
In 2001, Vince’s decision to walk the stage as he earned his diploma at UNC was seen as problematic.
It was on that very same day he and the Raps were to face Allen Iverson’s Philadelphia 76ers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semis with the organization’s first ever conference final on the line.
Carter’s last second missed jumper set off a vitriolic storm of controversy about his priorities and where they ultimately rested.
That game marked the start of the ending for Half Man/Half Amazing’s run and relationship with the T-Dot, the country of Canada and her fans, whose sons fantasized of being like the man who literally made professional basketball visible and viable in the Great White North.
The Christopher Wesson Bosh Era was marked by Sam Mitchell’s NBA Coach Of The Year, matching the team’s season wins benchmark to date of 47, an alleged wrasslin’ match with Vince Carter and two relatively resistance-free first round playoff exits, including one at the hands of Carter, who was then a New Jersey Net.
After just over fifteen years of existence and relative futility, the Raptors hired former Dallas Mavericks assistant coach Dwane Casey, a defensive guru who had just helped bottle up LeBron James and the Miami Heat for the Mavs’ lone title the year previous.
A season later, Toronto lured 2013 Executive of the Year Masai Ujiri from the Denver Nuggets and back across the border as their new General Manager.
Little did many know a true culture change was imminent.
All-Stars are made in the regular season.
Superstars are made in the postseason.
It is an adage to which I have firmly adhered in my thinking, writing and audio-visual commentary on the NBA over the years.
It hasn’t changed.
And as great as the Raptors All-Star backcourt and best friend duo of Kyle Lowry and DeMar Darnell DeRozan have been over these past four regular seasons in leading the Raps to the playoffs each of those years, their performances have been grossly underwhelming in the postseason.
In the team’s initial visit to the playoffs under Coach Casey, a first round 4-3 loss to the Brooklyn Nets, fronted by the ancient Kevin Maurice Garnett and Paul Anthony Pierce in 2014 was the end result.
Getting cooked 4-0 in the first round in 2015 by the Washington Wizards and previously mentioned proven playoff performer in Pierce, alliteration game aside, didn’t help comfort fans or players on the team’s direction or potential, either.
Were the Raps simply happy to make the playoffs?
Would merely making it to the “real season” be justification enough to continue growing ‘the culture’, retaining Dwane Casey, who, despite the squad’s steady improvement each year under his guidance, seemed to always be on the hot seat and in a lame duck situation as coach?
Did the Raptors jump the line in 2016 by making it to the Eastern Conference Final vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers without a history of progressive series victories?
Their most recent playoff appearances seemed to suggest so.
But in doing that, perhaps an unfair expectation was heaped upon a team and a country thirsty for success in a sport whose inventor was a native son.
Perhaps the 2017 NBA Playoffs would offer hope and maybe answers to the contrary.
The roster, now bolstered with the power forward long coveted by Ujiri in Serge Ibaka and fellow midseason acquisition in the rugged, defensive minded Anthony Leon Tucker, Jr., was perhaps at its strongest level in history.
Adding Ibaka and Tucker to one of the top teams in the league would certainly spell success for Toronto against other Eastern powers, right?
The necessary variables were all there.
DeRozan and Lowry, steady vet Cory Joseph, a young man with seemingly no country in today’s NBA in Jonas Valanciunas and possibly the lone misstep in Masai Ujiri’s reign as front office bawse in DeMarre Carroll, looked to be the franchise’s most rounded and well-balanced from the start.
Though the Raptors escaped after an opening round series win in six games over a rapidly improving Milwaukee Bucks squad, facing the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers would prove revealing, cathartic and maybe even prophetic.
After getting washed in the 2017 conference semifinal 4-0, losing once again to the Cavs, huge decisions are on the horizon for this team.
Some of these decisions will be second guessed and derided as the Raptors have never known this level of prosperity and stability; some will be applauded.
All of them will be tough.
Before the 2014-2015 campaign, Kyle Lowry was the first major free agent to re-sign in a place long eschewed by top flight free agents as a destination location based on perceptions and hard realities about weather, taxes and outright fallacies.
Ujiri believed Lowry to be the man with whom he’d help to establish the Raptors’ winning culture.
He gambled correctly.
Four consecutive playoff appearances, multiple All-Star selections for both Lowry and DeRozan and an engaged fan base are all results of that trust.
I’ve been quoted saying “In Masai, you must trust!” on occasion.
The man has done a masterful job in the establishing a winning and pervasive culture in Toronto.
Adroitly moving albatross contracts of Andrea Bargnani and Rudy Gay to effectively hand the reign of the team to his budding backcourt along with other less newsworthy moves was key.
But now with the spectre of offering Lowry his Lifetime Achievement contract of 5 years at $200 million-plus, despite being on the wrong side of 31 with a worrisome injury history, is in plain sight.
Re-signing Ibaka and Tucker to big deals aside, the Lowry package alone could potentially lead to the kind of roster and cap inflexibility eventually signalling a nuclear winter for pro hoops in Canada for quite some time.
Adjust and amend slightly to stay relevant; good but never “great”?
Blow it up, moving your best assets and hope the fans stick with you?
Stripes on Ujiri’s executive management uniform signal that he has earned the stroke with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment to govern the Raptors’ future as he sees fit.
It’s a pretty safe bet he will.
I’m also looking at next steps in my Life.
The world and its prospects seem to get smaller as you get older… if you let them.
Knowing that forever will my altitude be determined by my attitude and action brings me solace and comfort in an uncertain world.
I’ve long despised phrases like:
“IT’S TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE!”
“ALL GOOD THINGS MUST COME TO AN END!”
When you ask those who allow the words to exit their blabberboxes a simple one-word question:
They never seem to have a sensible answer.
To live through what you love is a blessing.
Sometimes, the cost comes in the form of time, effort and the loss of friends and loved ones who may not necessarily share your enthusiasm and optimistic outlook on achieving beyond your wildest dreams.
I am a huge proponent of planning your work so that you can work your plan.
But at this point in my Life, maybe Today is the tomorrow I dreamt about yesterday… and now I am living it, through my work and passions.
My born day offered me a reset on my Life’s direction.
What I choose ultimately might not be liked by anyone.
I can live with the weight of my choices.
“EVEN THE SUN GOES DOWN
HEROES EVENTUALLY DIE…
HOROSCOPES OFTEN LIE…
AND SOMETIMES “Y”…
NOTHIN’ IS FOR SURE…
NOTHIN’ IS FOR CERTAIN…
NOTHIN’ LASTS FOREVER,
BUT UNTIL THEY CLOSE THE CURTAIN…”
– Dre3Stax, AQUEMINI
As long as they keep on readin’,watchin’ and listenin’, imma keep on doin’.
Until we reconnect in text again, keep doing what’s Popular with the Population…