The Toronto Raptors are a professional basketball team based in Toronto, Ontario. They are part of the Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference in the National Basketball Association (NBA). The team was established in 1995, along with the Vancouver Grizzlies, as part of the NBA's expansion into Canada. When the Grizzlies relocated to Memphis, Tennessee in 2001, the Raptors became the only Canadian team in the NBA. They originally played their home games in the SkyDome, before moving to the Air Canada Centre (ACC) in 1999.
Like most expansion teams, the Raptors struggled in their early years, but after the acquisition of Vince Carter through a draft day trade in 1998, the team set league attendance records and made the NBA Playoffs in 2000, 2001, and 2002. Carter was instrumental in leading the team to their first playoff series win in 2001, where they advanced to the Eastern Conference Semifinals. During the 2002–03 and 2003–04 seasons, they failed to make significant progress and he was traded in 2004. After Carter left, Chris Bosh emerged as the team leader, but they continued to struggle. However, with the appointment of Bryan Colangelo as General Manager and a revamp of the roster for the 2006–07 season, they qualified for their first playoff berth in five years and captured their first division title. In the following season, they advanced to the playoffs again.
The Toronto Raptors were established on 30 September 1993 when the NBA, as part of its expansion into Canada, awarded its 28th franchise to a group headed by Toronto businessman John Bitove. The Raptors, along with the Vancouver Grizzlies, played their first games in 1995, and were the first NBA teams based in Canada since the 1946–47 Toronto Huskies.
Initial sentiment was in favour of reviving the Huskies nickname, but team management realized it would be nearly impossible to design a logo that did not look too much like that of the Minnesota Timberwolves. As a result, a nationwide contest was held to help name the team and develop their colours and logo. Over 2,000 entries were narrowed down to ten prospects: Beavers, Bobcats, Dragons, Grizzlies, Hogs, Raptors, Scorpions, T-Rex, Tarantulas, and Terriers. The final selection—Toronto Raptors—was unveiled on Canadian national television on 15 May 1994; the choice was influenced by the popularity of the film Jurassic Park. On 24 May 1994, the team's logo and first General Manager (GM), Isiah Thomas were revealed at a press conference. The team's colours of bright red, purple, black, and silver were also revealed; "Naismith" silver was chosen as an ode to Canadian James Naismith, the inventor of basketball. The team originally competed in the Central Division, and before the inaugural season began, sales of Raptors merchandise ranked seventh in the league, marking a successful return of professional basketball to Canada.
As GM, Isiah Thomas quickly staffed the management positions with his own personnel, naming long-time Detroit Pistons assistant Brendan Malone as the Raptors' head coach. The team's roster was then filled as a result of an expansion draft in 1995. Following a coin flip, Toronto was given first choice and selected Chicago Bulls point guard and three-point specialist B. J. Armstrong. Armstrong refused to report for training and Thomas promptly traded him to the Golden State Warriors for power forwards Carlos Rogers and Victor Alexander. Thomas then selected a wide range of players in the expansion draft, including veterans Jerome Kersey, Willie Anderson and his former Pistons teammate John "Spider" Salley.
Subsequent to the expansion draft, the Raptors landed the seventh pick in the NBA Draft Lottery, behind their fellow 1995 expansion club, the Vancouver Grizzlies. Thomas selected Damon Stoudamire, a point guard out of University of Arizona, around whom the franchise would seek to construct its near future. Yet the selection of Stoudamire was met with boos from fans at the 1995 NBA Draft at the SkyDome in Toronto, many of whom wanted Ed O'Bannon of UCLA, an NCAA Final Four Most Valuable Player.
In the team's first official NBA game, Alvin Robertson scored the first NBA points in Raptors history, while Stoudamire recorded 10 points and 10 assists in a 94–79 victory over the New Jersey Nets. The Raptors concluded their inaugural season with a 21–61 win-loss record, although they were one of the few teams to defeat the Chicago Bulls, who set an all-time NBA best 72–10 win–loss regular season record. With averages of 19.0 points and 9.3 assists per game, Stoudamire also won the 1995–96 Rookie of the Year Award.
In the 1996–97 season the team improved on its win record by nine games. They selected centre Marcus Camby with the second overall pick in the 1996 NBA Draft. By the end of the season, Camby earned a berth on the NBA's All-Rookie Team while Stoudamire continued to play well, averaging 20.2 points and 8.8 assists per game. As in the previous season, the Raptors were one of only 11 teams to topple the eventual 1997 Champions, the Chicago Bulls. The Raptors also defeated the Houston Rockets, Utah Jazz and Miami Heat, all of whom were eventual Conference finalists. However, the Raptors struggled against teams who were not of championship calibre, including three losses to the 15–67 Boston Celtics.
Early in the 1997–98 season, the team suffered numerous injuries and slid into a 17-game losing streak. GM Isiah Thomas resigned after his ownership bid for the Raptors failed and was replaced by Glen Grunwald. With Thomas gone, Stoudamire immediately sought a trade. On 13 February 1998, he was shipped to the Portland Trail Blazers along with Walt Williams and Carlos Rogers for Kenny Anderson, Alvin Williams, Gary Trent, two first-round draft choices, a second-round draft choice and cash. Anderson refused to report to Toronto and was traded to the Celtics with Zan Tabak and Popeye Jones for Chauncey Billups, Dee Brown, Roy Rogers and John Thomas. When the trading deadline was over, the Raptors became the youngest team in the league with an average age of 24.6. They had five rookies on their roster, including the 18-year-old Tracy McGrady, who at the time was the youngest player in the NBA. The inexperienced Raptors struggled throughout the season and their regular season record regressed to 16–66.
During the 1998 NBA Draft, in what became a defining move for the franchise, Grunwald traded the team's 4th overall pick Antawn Jamison to the Golden State Warriors for Vince Carter, who was selected 5th overall. To bring further credibility to the Raptors, Grunwald traded Camby to the New York Knicks for Charles Oakley, a veteran with playoff experience. Kevin Willis, another veteran acquired from the trade, solidified the centre position, while the coaching staff temporarily rotated Dee Brown, Alvin Williams and Doug Christie to play point guard. Both Christie and Williams became talented players in their own right; Christie developed into one of the elite defenders in the NBA, while Williams improved his play on the offensive end. New coach Butch Carter was also credited with much of the team's turnaround during the lockout shortened 1998–99 season. Although the team did not make the playoffs, many were optimistic with the impressive performances of Rookie of the Year Carter and a much improved McGrady.
During the 1999 NBA Draft, believing that the Raptors still lacked a strong frontcourt presence, Grunwald traded first-round draft pick Jonathan Bender for veteran power forward Antonio Davis of the Indiana Pacers. In the backcourt, Butch Carter rotated Carter, Christie, Williams and Dell Curry at the shooting guard position and Williams and Muggsy Bogues at point guard. The rotation of Davis, Oakley and Willis in the frontcourt and Carter's and McGrady's improvement helped the team make its first ever playoff appearance, fulfilling a promise Carter had made to fans in the previous season. Lacking significant post-season experience, Toronto was defeated 3–0 by the New York Knicks in the first round. Nonetheless, team improvements and the rise of Carter—who emphatically won the 2000 NBA Slam Dunk Contest—attracted many fans around Toronto, many of whom were previously not basketball fans. The season was also the first full year played at the Air Canada Centre, after having played four years at the cavernous SkyDome, which was better suited to baseball and football. Overall, the Raptors concluded the season with a 45–37 record and ranked third in the Central Division.
Still, playoff failures and Butch Carter's media altercations surrounding Camby led Grunwald to replace Carter prior to the 2000–01 season with Lenny Wilkens, a Hall of Fame coach and player with more than 30 years of coaching experience. The team roster was also largely revamped, including the signing of veteran playmaker Mark Jackson on a four year contract. When Alvin Williams later emerged as a clutch performer, Jackson was traded to allow Williams more playing time. Vince Carter, who was originally assigned the small forward position, became more adept at playing the shooting guard position, and as a result, Doug Christie, the former shooting guard, was traded for forward Corliss Williamson. Williamson had a disappointing season and was replaced by defensive workhorse Jerome Williams. Although McGrady and Carter had showed impressive improvement at the same time, much of the media and fan attention was focused on Carter, who was the flashier player. Furthermore, McGrady and Carter shared the same natural position (small forward), making it impossible to keep both. Therefore, the Raptors management decided to trade McGrady to the Orlando Magic during the 2000 off-season for a first-round draft pick in a sign-and-trade deal.
As predicted by analysts, the team easily secured a playoff berth. Toronto defeated New York 3–2 in the first round, and Wilkens was praised for having Williams defend shooting guard Allan Houston and Carter defend small forward Latrell Sprewell, the two major Knicks offensive threats. The next series against the Philadelphia 76ers was a landmark for the Raptors in terms of performance and entertainment value. The Sixers relied on Allen Iverson and Dikembe Mutombo for their respective offensive and defensive abilities, along with steady help from Aaron McKie. Toronto was the more balanced team with Carter, Williams and Davis providing much of the offensive game and Chris Childs and Jerome Williams providing the defensive pressure. Philadelphia took full advantage of the mismatch at centre while Toronto counteracted with a fast break offence with their shorter but quicker players. The series came down to the last few seconds of Game 7, when Carter's potential series-winning shot rolled off the rim. Carter was later widely criticized for attending his graduation ceremony at the University of North Carolina on the morning of Game 7. Despite the loss, the season is generally considered a watermark for the franchise, given the Raptors' best ever regular season record (47–35), and finishing second in the Central Division.
The relocation of the Vancouver Grizzlies to Memphis, Tennessee in 2001 left Toronto as the NBA's only Canadian team. To ensure that Vince Carter would re-sign with the team, long-term contracts were given to Alvin Williams, Jerome Williams and Antonio Davis, while former NBA MVP centre Hakeem Olajuwon was signed to provide Carter with good support. The Raptors appeared to be on their way to another competitive season, with a 29–21 record going into the All-Star break and with Carter the top vote-getter for the All-Star game for the third consecutive year. Carter then suffered a bout of tendinitis, forcing him to miss the All-Star game and the rest of the season, and without their franchise player, Toronto lost 13 consecutive games. However, they were able to win 12 of their last 14 games, clinching a playoff spot on the last day of the regular season. The comeback featured some of the Raptors' best defense of the season, along with inspired performances by Antonio Davis and Keon Clark.
Despite Toronto's improved defensive performances, Carter's offence was sorely missed in the first-round series against the second-seeded Detroit Pistons. In the first game, Detroit overwhelmed Toronto 83–65 largely due to Ben Wallace's strong performance of 19 points, 20 rebounds, 3 blocks and 3 steals. Detroit also won Game 2, but Toronto won the next two games at home to force a deciding and tightly contested Game 5 in Detroit. With 10.7 seconds left in the game, and the Raptors down 85–82 with possession of the ball, Chris Childs raced down the court and shot a three-pointer that missed badly, apparently trying to draw a foul on the play, instead of passing to a wide-open Dell Curry. In a post-game locker room interview, Childs repeatedly insisted that the Raptors had been down four points, not three. The Raptors' late-season surge was thus marred by a disappointing playoff exit; the Olajuwon experiment was also a bust, with the 39-year-old averaging career lows in minutes, points and rebounds. Furthermore, Childs, Clark, and Curry left the team, ensuring a new-look team for the next season.
Canadian country singer Shania Twain helped launch the new red Raptors alternate road uniform at the start of the 2003–04 season, and the jerseys made their debut in a 90–87 season-opening victory on 29 October 2003 against the defending Conference Champion New Jersey Nets. The Raptors were inconsistent throughout the season, partly due to injuries to key players Jalen Rose, Alvin Williams and Carter, with Davis and Jerome Williams traded early in the season for Rose and Donyell Marshall. On 1 November 2003, the Raptors even tied an NBA record for fewest points scored in a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, losing 56–73. After 50 games, Toronto was 25–25 and in a position to make the playoffs, but injuries to key players again sent the Raptors plummeting down the standings. Rose, Carter, and Williams all suffered injuries as the Raptors struggled to a record of 8–24 in their remaining games. The Raptors fired GM Glen Grunwald on 1 April 2004, after the team ended the season three games short of the eighth and final playoff spot. The notable individual season performances were Carter's 22.5 ppg, Marshall's 10.7 rpg and rookie Bosh, a 6-10 forward-centre who averaged 11.5 ppg and 7.4 rpg and was named to the NBA All-Rookie Team. In this transitionary season, the Raptors improved their regular season record to 33–49.
Head coach Kevin O'Neill was fired immediately after Grunwald's termination, after making some remarks which were taken to question the team's commitment to winning. He was replaced by Sam Mitchell, a former NBA forward and assistant coach of the Milwaukee Bucks. Rob Babcock was named GM on 7 June 2004, alongside the appointments of Wayne Embry as senior advisor and Alex English as director of player development.
In the 2004–05 season, the team moved into the Atlantic Division. Babcock picked Rafael Araújo—selected eighth overall—in the 2004 NBA Draft, in a move that was criticized by fans and analysts. Franchise player Carter demanded a trade during the offseason which finally came to fruition mid-season, ending his six-year tenure. Following the trade, Carter acknowledged he had not tried his hardest in the past few seasons. Toronto received Alonzo Mourning, forwards Eric Williams and Aaron Williams and two mid-to-late future first round picks from the New Jersey Nets. Mourning chose to not report to Toronto, forcing Babcock to buy out the remainder of his contract at a reported $10 million, leaving him free to sign with the Miami Heat. Eric and Aaron Williams were supposed to add defensive toughness and rebounding, but were generally under-utilized for the entire season. Analysts had predicted Babcock got the bad end of the deal, and the trade eventually cost him his job.
Carter's departure heralded a new era for Toronto. Bosh stepped up to the role of franchise player and performed well in his sophomore campaign, ranking tenth in the league in defensive rebounds. In contrast to Bosh's emergence, Araújo struggled to keep a spot in the line-up, and became unpopular with fans and local media. Although the ACC was often well attended, due to the Raptors' 22–19 home record, their inability to win on the road (11–30) and poor defensive record made Sam Mitchell's first year as head coach unimpressive. Additionally, Mitchell had problems dealing with Rafer Alston, who openly expressed his unhappiness with Mitchell in a post-game interview. Later in the season, Alston was suspended two games for "conduct detrimental to the team" for reportedly walking out of a scrimmage during practice. Notwithstanding the unrest, in their first season competing in the Atlantic Division, Toronto maintained the same regular season record of 33–49 as the previous season.
The Raptors continued to rebuild during the 2005 NBA Draft, selecting Charlie Villanueva, Joey Graham, Roko Ukic and Uros Slokar, with Villanueva's selection being very controversial amongst basketball pundits and Raptors fans alike. The Raptors started their training camp by trading Alston to the Houston Rockets for Mike James, and signing free agent José Calderón as a backup for James. Despite the infusion of new players, Toronto's overall 2005–06 season was a disappointment; they set a franchise record by losing their first nine games and 15 out of their first 16 games. With losses mounting and media scrutiny intensifying, the Raptors hired legendary ex-Purdue coach Gene Keady as an assistant off the bench to help develop the young Raptors team, as well as establish a defensive persona for the team.
On 15 January 2006, the Raptors set a franchise points record in a 129–103 win over the Knicks when Villanueva hit a three-pointer late in the game, but less than a week later, the Raptors gave up an 18-point lead against the Los Angeles Lakers, and allowed Lakers star Kobe Bryant to score 81 points, the second highest single-game total in NBA history. With media scrutiny intensifying once more and the Raptors entrenched at the bottom of the league in defensive field goal percentage, Toronto fired GM Rob Babcock.
The 2005–06 season was not a total disaster. Villanueva's play impressed both fans and former critics as he came in second in NBA Rookie of the Year and recorded 48 points in an overtime loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, the most points scored by any rookie in franchise history and the most by a rookie in the NBA since 1997. Bosh was also named a reserve forward for the Eastern All-Star Team in the 2006 game, becoming the third Raptor after Vince Carter and Antonio Davis to appear in an All-Star Game. On 27 February 2006, the team named Bryan Colangelo, the 2004–05 NBA Executive of the Year, the President and GM of the Raptors. Known for his success in transforming a lottery Phoenix team into a 62-win offensive juggernaut, his hiring gave hope to many fans. Still, Toronto ended the season weakly when Bosh suffered a season-ending thumb injury. The Raptors lost 10 in a row after Bosh's injury and finished the season with the fifth worst record (27–55) in the NBA.
The 2006–07 season represented a watershed year for the Raptors franchise. The roster was overhauled, including the selection of 2006 NBA Draft number one pick Andrea Bargnani, the acquisition of point guard T. J. Ford in exchange for Charlie Villanueva, and the signing of shooting guard Anthony Parker and small forward Jorge Garbajosa. Bosh was given a three-year contract extension, while Maurizio Gherardini of Benetton Treviso was hired as the club’s vice-president and assistant general manager.
The first half of the season produced mixed results as Toronto struggled towards the .500 mark. However, Toronto ended the regular season with a 47–35 record, securing the third seed in the Eastern Conference for the 2007 NBA Playoffs along with the Atlantic Division title, as well as homecourt advantage for the first time in franchise history. Bosh recorded career-highs in ppg and rpg and was voted to start in the 2007 NBA All-Star Game. The Raptors were also praised for their improved defense, ball-sharing and tremendous team chemistry. Colangelo, Gherardini and Mitchell were credited with Toronto's turnaround this season, which was one of the best in NBA history in terms of league standing and defensive ranking. Mitchell was subsequently named the 2006–07 NBA Coach of the Year, the first coach in Raptors history to receive the honour, while Colangelo was named 2006–07 Executive of the Year. On 24 April 2007, the Raptors won their first playoff game in five seasons, with an 89–83 victory over the New Jersey Nets, but lost the series 4–2.
Several changes to the roster were made before the 2007–08 campaign as Toronto sought to reproduce the same form as the previous campaign. Most notably, the Raptors acquired Carlos Delfino in a trade with Detroit for two second round draft picks, and signed Jamario Moon and three-point specialist Jason Kapono as free agents. On the other hand, veteran swingman Morris Peterson joined the New Orleans Hornets. Despite being defending division champions, the Raptors were widely tipped as outside contenders for the division and conference titles. Bargnani's inability to play well consistently, coupled with injuries to Garbajosa (75 games), Bosh (15 games) and Ford (31 games) derailed the possibility of a smooth campaign as the Raptors chalked up six fewer wins than the previous season. The Raptors ceded the division title to Boston, and qualified for the 2008 NBA Playoffs as the sixth seed where they were pitted against the Orlando Magic, but were eliminated in five games. Whereas the preceding season was considered a success, the 2007–08 campaign was considered a disappointment. Weaknesses in Toronto's game—rebounding, defence, and a lack of a swingman—were brought to sharp focus during the playoffs, and speculation was rife that big changes would be made to the roster.
As it turned out, a blockbuster trade was agreed in principle before the 2008–09 campaign: six-time All-Star Jermaine O'Neal was acquired from the Indiana Pacers in exchange for Ford (who had become expendable with the emergence of Calderón), Rasho Nesterovič, Maceo Baston, and Roy Hibbert, the 17th pick in the 2008 NBA Draft, giving the Raptors a potential boost in the frontcourt.
The Raptors have enjoyed a consistent fanbase throughout their history. From 2000 to 2002, the Raptors led the league in sellouts, but attendances dipped slightly between 2003 and 2006. This improved during the 2006–07 regular season, an average of 18,258 fans attended each game (13th in the league), which translates to 92.2% of the ACC's seating capacity. Following the success of the 2006–07 season, Toronto became one of the league leaders in season ticket sales for the 2007–08 season.
The value of the Raptors franchise has risen over the years. With the continued popularity of the Raptors, the value of the franchise rose from US$125 million in 1998 to $315 million in 2006 and $373 million in 2007, according to reports by Forbes. The Raptors are also the only NBA team with their own television station, Raptors NBA TV. Their television ratings, however, are considerably lower than other more established Toronto sports teams and other sporting events shown on Canadian television.
On game day, the fans are usually entertained by the Raptor mascot, the Raptors Dance Pak, and the 4 Korners Raptors Soundcrew during pre-game, time-outs, and intervals. Giveaways are usually bundled with tickets to encourage attendance.
|#||Name||Term||Regular season||Playoffs||Awards won|
|Games coached||Wins||Losses||Win-loss %||Games coached||Wins||Losses|
|6||Sam Mitchell||2004–present||328||148||180||.451||11||3||8||2007 NBA Coach of the Year|