The Raptors will open preseason on Monday, and they will do it against a team that is not in the NBA. The Raptors will once again take on an international team for the first time since 2008. They are doing their part for the NBA building bridges with the rest of the world. That is great for the league, but does it help the Raptors?
We take a look at the Raptors’ history challenging teams from outside the NBA and look at the positives and negatives in that. Real Madrid will be the Raptors opponent on Monday, and they actually beat the Raptors in Spain in 2007, winning 104-103. The Raptors' first experience in taking on an international team in the preseason was back on October 10, 2003.
Here is the complete history of Raptors vs. International Opposition:
- 2003: Raptors defeated Panathinaikos 100-76
- 2004: Raptors defeated Benetton (Italy) 86-83
- 2005: Maccabi (Israel) defeated Raptors 105-103
- 2006: Raptors defeated Maccabi (Israel) 118-84
- 2007: Raptors defeated Lottomatica 93-87 (In Rome, Italy)
- 2007: Real Madrid defeated Raptors 104-103 (In Madrid, Spain)
- 2007: Raptors defeated Zalgris Kaunas 105-99
- 2008: Raptors defeated CSKA Moscow 86-78
* Unless indicated, all of these games took place at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto
The Raptors also made history being part of two regular season games in London, England, losing both to the New Jersey Nets back on March 4 and 5, 2011. They were the first two teams to play regular season games in Europe.
The Raptors are a popular pick for the league to use in these international incidents based on their roster, which has had a very international flavor to it over the years. The Raptors held training camp in Italy in 2007, the homeland of Andrea Bargnani. They went on to play in Spain, where Jose Calderon and now former Raptor Jorge Garbajosa called home.
The real question for Raptor fans is, does all of this being goodwill ambassadors for the NBA help or hurt the Raptors, especially in the preseason when they are trying to prepare for an NBA season?
Obviously, from a business point of view, this helps the Raptors expand their brand internationally and create fans in other parts of the world. It likely has sold a lot of Raptors jerseys and other merchandise to those fans they create. Keep in mind that money goes into a larger pot and gets shared by all the NBA teams. That said, there has to be some business upside in having an international fan base beyond that.
What about from a basketball point of view though?
The Raptors took the old expression “If you can't beat them, join them” quite literally, in terms of Anthony Parker. He was the guy that in 2005 hit the shot that sunk the Raptors and gave his Maccabi team a very noteworthy victory over a NBA franchise. Parker played outstanding in that game and opened the Raptors eyes to his skills.
The next season, Anthony Parker was signed and started for the Toronto Raptors at shooting guard. The Raptors would play his old team that season and get revenge as noted above.
That is probably a rare case that may never happen again. What it does do though is help the Raptors build relationships with club teams in Europe, perhaps giving them the inside track on knowing more information on players, in terms of drafting players from Europe.
The Raptors actually brought in Maurizio Gherardini as their Assistant GM and Vice President in June 2006. He ran the Benneton club that the Raptors took on in 2004, the club that Andrea Bargnani came from. Currently Gherardini still holds the title of Vice President, and is in charge of the Raptors' international scouting.
Those are just a couple of obvious connections to how the Raptors have translated these games into actual moves that impact on the organization as a whole.
Perhaps the best argument in favor of these international contests is the fact that the teams that they play are playing to win. You will hear many times over this preseason how teams still want to win games. They are not lying in saying that, but in reality one must ask how hard are they trying to do that. The answer is likely varied based on individual team’s goals for the upcoming season.
There is no question the motivation of these teams from Europe. They are playing to win, and if they do, it is big news for them and a feather in the cap for their clubs back home. They beat a team from the best league in the world: the NBA.
The downside in playing these games is that international teams play a different style of basketball than what you see in the NBA. How much that helps you prepare to stop the 29 other NBA teams can be debated. I would admit, with the influx of international talent and ideas into the NBA, that gap, in terms of differences, is less.
The only thing I would say is if you want to play these international teams, it should be done near the very start of your preseason schedule. It works as a good wake up call for your team, playing in a competitive game in terms of effort right away. The later you do this, the less benefit I see in doing it.
So the fact the Raptors open the preseason against Real Madrid is the ideal time to do this. It should be a really good stress test for this new group. Seeing how they respond to a very competitive team that is already playing and in their regular season form will be instructive.
Not all the names on the other side will be totally unfamiliar to NBA fans. Rudy Fernandez played for several seasons in the NBA; Sergio Lull is another name that might sound familiar as well as others. The knowledge of global basketball has improved a lot since 2003 when the Raptors first played an international team.
In the end the advantages of doing this probably outweigh the downsides. Perhaps the biggest downside is suffering the embarrassment of losing. That is something that has happened a couple times to the Raptors. Even the impact of that has become far less with a greater understanding of international basketball than nine years ago.