How good could the Toronto Raptors have been if Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady had both stayed with the team for the long-term? It's without question the biggest "what if?" in the history of the franchise.
Tracy McGrady was selected ninth overall by the Raptors in the 1997 NBA draft. Vince Carter would arrive one year later in a draft-day trade with the Warriors that sent Antawn Jamison—who was selected fourth by Toronto—to Golden State.
For two seasons (1998-2000), the talented cousins would help lead the team to a record of 68-64. That stretch included the Raptors first-ever winning season—45-37 in 2000—and first NBA playoff appearance—a 3-0 sweep at the hands of the New York Knicks—as well.
Everything was looking good for Toronto. McGrady and Carter were at the helm of the offense, and the rest of the roster was filled out with savvy veterans who were willing to concede the spotlight to them.
Unfortunately, that assortment of talent didn't have much staying power.
After the 2000 playoffs, McGrady became a free agent, and he signed a six-year, $67.5 million contract with the Orlando Magic. The lure of returning home to Florida and teaming up with NBA superstar Grant Hill—who would eventually succumb to injuries—was too good an opportunity to pass up.
With Vince Carter as the focal point, the Raptors would reach the Eastern Conference semifinals the following season, eventually losing to the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 7 by one measly point.
Three years later, Carter would be dealt to the New Jersey Nets in a trade that's still regarded by many as one of the more lopsided transactions in NBA history. Toronto received Alonzo Mourning (who never suited up for the team), Eric Williams, Aaron Williams and two future first-round draft picks.
And just like that, the rebuilding and revamping of the Toronto Raptors was underway. Tracy McGrady was winning NBA scoring titles for "The City Beautiful," while Carter would eventually regain his focus and thrive in a new environment with the Nets.
In a 2011 interview with Michael Landsberg of TSN's "Off The Record," McGrady—who was a guest on the show with Carter and former teammate Charles Oakley—said that if he was still a member of the Raptors during their 2001 series with the 76ers, that team would have undoubtedly been successful and presumably gone on to the NBA Finals that year.
That epic series came down to the final shot of Game 7. If McGrady was on the roster, it's hard to imagine that series going as long as it did. He would have been the difference maker.
I look back on how good I was when I left here and played in Orlando. I look at how great Vince was. I look at that team that they had when they faced Philly. What was is it, Game 7? When (Carter) missed that shot in the corner? There’s no doubt if I was part of that team what we could have done. But that’s hindsight looking back man, ya know?
Also mentioned in the 2011 OTR interview was a paraphrased statement from Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant from SLAM Magazine on the 1999-2000 Raptors. Bryant said that if that team—with McGrady, Carter and their numerous vets—had stuck together, they could have won championships.
Would that have been the case?
It's hard to say. It's wishful thinking, but nothing would have been guaranteed, even with McGrady and Carter together. Even so, that's high praise from someone with the credentials of one Kobe Bryant.
Having the two cousins in their prime as the centerpieces of the team would make any fan's mouth water, but would it have worked over time?
The financial burden of having to pay two superstar talents maximum-salary deals may have been too much to overcome. They were essentially the same player, and building around two wings while putting less focus on other positions—point guard and center primarily—could have bitten the team in the butt.
Would management have the money to re-sign Alvin Williams? How about Antonio Davis? How would the rest of the roster have looked with so much dough tied into two guys?
As the saying goes, everything happens for a reason. Where would the Raptors be at the moment if both Carter and McGrady had stayed? In all likelihood, the Raptors would have never landed the No. 4 overall pick in the 2003 draft, thus missing out on Chris Bosh. That No. 1 pick in 2006—which was used to select Andrea Bargnani—probably wouldn't have happened either.
The entire history of the franchise would have been altered. It's similar to taking a time machine back to the prehistoric era, stepping on an insect and then returning home to realize that the entire world has become a block of ice.
Even if the Raptors weren't championship contenders, at the very least, they would have been a surefire playoff team that continuously avoided being a bottom-feeder on a yearly basis.
Let's not discount the fact that they would have been one of the most entertaining squads in the league to watch. A lot of credit should be given to these two gentlemen—more so to Carter—for their roles in making basketball as popular as it has become in Canada.
It's just a crying shame that we as Raptors fans will never know what could have been. We had a LeBron James/Dwyane Wade-esque duo—though debatable—to call our own, and they weren't around long enough to even give it a good run.
Tracy McGrady is now retired from the NBA after 16 seasons, while Vince Carter might not be far behind.
Neither player has any championship rings, which makes you wonder if that would be the case had they remained members of the Raptors.
We'll never know. Darn.
*All statistics/salary information courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com