By Jason Menard
Is it too late to pick up the “loveable losers” tag from the Chicago Cubs because the 2005-2006 edition of the Toronto Raptors certainly need something to hang their hat on?
Alas, following a November that left the team 1-15 on the season is just pitifully bad. The eminently likeable head coach Sam Mitchell appears before the media’s cameras resembling Nero more and more, fiddling while the franchise burns behind him.
There are only so many times you can say your team is playing hard, working hard, learning well, developing in practice, or whatever other excuse Mitchell’s been using to deflect the fans from the hard and fast truth. This is a bad team.
Hope for the future is great and all, but we live in an instant gratification society. It’s easier to appreciate the aging of a fine wine when you’ve been able to taste a couple of batches along the way to test its progress. However, if you make that same wine aficionado abstain until the vintage is ready, chances are you’re going to have some cranky days along the way.
It’s fine and dandy to promise wins that will come one day, but the fans need the odd reminder of what a W looks and feels like.
Compounding this is the natural inferiority we, as Canadians, feel about our professional sports franchises. Whether or not we like to admit it out loud there’s always a feeling that these professional leagues, based south of the border, look at Canadian franchises as nothing more than annoyances better to be relocated to a more favourable environment. And it’s not a fear based on paranoia as NBA fans in Vancouver, MLB fans in Montreal, and NHL fans in Quebec City and Winnipeg will attest to.
Winning is the only way to ensure long-term financial security. The Toronto Blue Jays have started to figure it out, investing money into a franchise that’s not even a contender in its big-money game, but has a little potential for success. Remember, we Canadians support our teams win or tie!
But beyond fan support, the other aspect that we as Canadians have to deal with is American ignorance. Getting players to relocate north of the 49 th is as difficult as pulling teeth at times. So, once they’re here we want them to stay. Make ‘em happy, keep ‘em smiling and maybe more will come. Take a look at the World Series-winning Jays for example – they were a franchise that people wanted to play for, not a destination to be avoided at all costs.
Which brings us to the NBA’s Raptors. Blessed with the rights to a talented cornerstone upon which the franchise can be built in Chris Bosh, already the concerns are starting to rise. Will he stay once his rookie deal’s done? Can we keep him? Do we have the right management to build a contender before he bolts south of the border?
It’s not a lot of fun in Raptorland, either for the players or the fans. Despite the ever-gracious Bosh and fan-favourite Matt Bonner the team hasn’t been able to capture the fans’ imaginations as loveable losers – they’re just losers, and that has to stop.
It’s time for a complete overhaul of the franchise, only a decade into its existence. The team is burdened with a dinosaur-sized weight of past burdens left malcontents like Damon Stoudamire, Tracy McGrady, and Vince Carter, dismal seasons, and lost hope. The 2005-2006 Raptors have been crafted with the idea of starting from scratch and building together for a bright new future powered by Bosh and fuelled by rookies like Charlie Villaneuva, Joey Graham, and Jose Calderon. Why hamper their development by fitting them with ill-fitting clothes?
It’s time to finally make the Raptor extinct and create a new attitude and culture of winning. It’s not enough to just rearrange the furniture if the exterior looks the same. Open the concept of a new team name to the fans and let them feel some sort of ownership for the franchise. Choose a colour scheme and logo that kids can be proud to wear. And wipe the slate clean of the history of losing that the Raptors name carries with it.
The team has tried everything else: new managers, new upper management, new ownership, and new players. So why not start a new era with a new attitude and new mentality, prominently displayed by a new logo.
After all, the Toronto Loveable Losers doesn’t sound any worse than what they are now, does it?
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