So now, they face the reality of life without Canada's most famous basketball player. The Raptors had such big plans for this offseason. They even managed to convince skeptical media and longtime supporters of the team they were going to bring Steve Nash home.
Having him on their practice floor running a basketball camp for team Canada was not what they had in mind.
Before NBA free agency got underway, Nash accepted a role with Canada basketball to be the GM of the program. He was in Toronto the last few days to announce his head coach, Jay Triano, who recently was hired as an assistant in Portland.
Nash was on hand for a training camp for Canada basketball in Toronto on the Raptors practice floor, working with Canada's finest. Included at this camp were Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph, recent draft picks Kris Joseph, Robert Sacre and Andrew Nicholson.
Great for Canada and their hopes of making the Olympics in 2016—a sad reminder for the Raptors of what might have been.
Still, some in the fanbase (and maybe that includes you) never wanted Nash. They wanted and would eventually get Kyle Lowry in a trade from the Rockets. The Raptors almost made this deal on draft night, but seemed unwilling to part with the pick they used to draft Terrence Ross. They would fork out what will be a future lottery pick to the Rockets, be it sooner or later—a high price to pay, but most would say well worth it.
Well, unless your name is Jose Calderon. It has been made pretty clear by Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo that Jose is less than thrilled with the events of the summer.
He might well be happy with his silver medal from the London Olympics, but it is safe to say his new role as backup point guard will not be enjoyable. Calderon is in the last year of a deal that many Raptors fans will be glad to see end. This comes after Calderon, along with Reggie Evans, had been close to being traded to the Charlotte Bobcats in 2010 (via the Charlotte Observer).
Like Nash coming, that trade never happened either. The debate may rage on for years whether it was Jordan or Larry Brown who ultimately didn't want Jose. That worked out pretty well for Tyson Chandler, who was supposed to come the Raptors in that deal. Instead, Mark Cuban swept in and was able to bring him to Dallas and have him play a key role in winning a championship.
Another key member in winning that title for Dallas was Dwane Casey, now the head coach of the Raptors entering into his second year. Though never admitting it in public, you have to figure he would have nightmares of Calderon's "clap clap" style of defense.
Enter Kyle Lowry, who seems the answer to his prayers. Still, you have to think Casey would have dealt with having Steve Nash, who was a two-time MVP but will never be noted for his defense either.
Not to mention all that it would have done to engage a nation of sports fans in Canada that may not have any hockey to watch come the fall.
Still, Lowry—for people that do follow basketball—draws pretty rave reviews. Some tout him as a potential All-Star. This could be true, but for casual sports fans in Canada, they know who Steve Nash is, but many will need to get to know Kyle Lowry.
The Raptors remember their efforts to acquire Steve Nash though. Landry Fields was said to be a big piece of a puzzle that was going to see Nash land in New York with Knicks (according to the New York Post). Colangelo took care of that, signing Fields to an offer sheet that was not quite as insane as the one Houston signed Jeremy Lin to. Fields, the Raptors said, was always on their radar. Still, it's clear the contract Colangelo offered was part of the effort to land Nash.
Fields is looking to bounce back after a solid rookie year to show those skills again and will likely be the Raptors starter at the small forward position. This was the source of great problems last season. James Johnson clashed with Casey later in the year, and ultimately was sent packing to the Kings for a second-round pick, which is less than that first-round pick the Raptors used to get him in the first place from the Bulls.
There are also high hopes for Jonas Valanciunas, who will be one of three rookies on the Raptors roster along with Terrence Ross and Quincy Acy.
Covering the NBA draft gave me a chance to see DeMar DeRozan. He has added a few pounds to his frame. He also impressed folks out in L.A. in the Drew League and at the U.S. Olympics training camp as a member of the select team. Andrea Bargnani did not have to deal with playing for Italy this summer, as they were not able to qualify for the Olympics.
Ultimately, the Raptors will be better. However, when you throw in the rest of the Atlantic Division, it might not matter. You can argue that Philadelphia, Brooklyn and Boston all did better. The Knicks? Maybe not as much, but they still have two big superstars—something the Raptors do not have.
At the end of last season, the Raptors were talking about being a playoff team. In fact, Kyle Lowry was as well at his introduction press conference.
That seems very optimistic. Even if you allow yourself to have hope for the best, can you really see how the Raptors do better than fourth in the Atlantic Division? Can you see that as being good enough to make the playoffs, even in the often underachieving Eastern Conference?
The Raptors have bottomed out in the post-Bosh era. That said, the climb back to being a playoff contender might be a little longer than people hope.