The Toronto Raptors have the deepest roster in franchise history, a player with a chance to win the Most Valuable Player Award and a flexible style designed to handle any opponent.
This has all the makings of an incredible season, especially now that archrival LeBron James has moved to the West Coast. Yet when spending time with the Raptors, it’s hard to avoid the feeling the franchise is constantly bracing for bad news.
It’s not the typical posture of a contender. The Raptors are a big, bad, beast of a team, and if they avoid major injuries, they should be there in the end. But they’re also dealing with a load of scar tissue, and that might be as big of a hump for them to get over as the Boston Celtics (their opponent at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN) or anyone else.
“We have a long road before we ever think about matching up with the champions like Golden State,” Kawhi Leonard said. “We’re not Finals competitors right now.”
“We don’t know what this team is,” Kyle Lowry said. “We’re all still trying to figure each other out.”
When it was pointed out to various Raptors that their wing-loaded roster, the presence of a signature star and experienced gritty, defensive-minded All-Star point guard, plus their devotion to shooting 3-pointers, made them a bit of a Houston Rockets-East, they ran from the comparison.
Lowry outright laughed. As did new coach Nick Nurse, who was raised in the Rockets system and won a D-League (now G League) title as coach of the Rockets’ affiliate Rio Grande Valley Vipers in 2013. In Nurse’s first season there in 2011-12, the Vipers took almost 500 more 3-pointers than any other team. In his first game as head coach Wednesday night, the Raptors took 14 more 3-pointers than their opponent, the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“Oh no, I wouldn’t say that,” Nurse said about the Rockets’ comparison. “We just really like our versatility.”
It’s one thing to not want to put anything on an opponent’s bulletin board. It’s another to try to demur as a defensive mechanism for later danger. For the Raptors, it often feels like a lot of the latter.
There are reasons why.
The man who won Coach of the Year l