The NHL lockout is a second chance for the Raptors to cash in on expanding their brand in Canada.
The Raptors failed in spectacular fashion the last time this opportunity was handed to them. The 2004-05 season will go down as the season that never was for NHL fans. Raptor fans will remember that season for a totally different reason.
While the NHL and their players association were fighting it out, the Raptors also had a fight on their hands with their star player at the time, Vince Carter. The Raptors cleaned house after an unsuccessful season under Glen Grunwald and Kevin O’Neil. Both were fired and replaced that summer.
Vince Carter wanted to have one of his idols be interviewed for the opening at the GM position in Toronto. Julius Erving, “Dr. J,” was who Carter wanted as his GM. What he got instead was Rob Babcock and Babcock’s choice for head coach, Sam Mitchell. This did not sit well with Carter and he demanded a trade prior to training camp. Carter saw this as the last straw for him in having faith in the organization.
That stormy time period was recently in the news thanks to Jalen Rose, who recounts a story in which Carter ends up body slamming Mitchell after he had his toughness called into question. This is all according to Jalen Rose, who claims to have been an eye witness to the events.
True or not, Vince would finally get what he asked for in the summer, a trade out of town to the New Jersey Nets. It was a trade that will go down as one of the worst in Toronto Raptors franchise history and perhaps ranks among the worst in NBA history.
To New Jersey:
Aaron Williams, Eric Williams, Alonzo Mourning and two picks in the first round
It was a trade that would ultimately be one of the biggest factors in Rob Babcock eventually losing his job as GM of the Raptors. Mourning would never report to Toronto and was bought out and ended up winning a title with Miami Heat. Both Eric Williams and Aaron Williams were less than spectacular and the draft picks amounted to little.
The Raptors went a disappointing 33-49 in Sam Mitchell's first season as head coach. In a season where the Raptors had the entire sports scene in Canada there for the taking, they failed to take advantage. They failed in spectacular fashion with more eyes on them than there normally would have been had the NHL been having their season.
It is rare you get second chances in life, but the Raptors appear to have just received one. The NHL once again is locked in a labor war with no end in sight and the Raptors are the only team scheduled to play games at the Air Canada Centre anytime soon.
The Raptors are on the other side of the situation they faced with Carter this time around. They find themselves just starting to recover from the latest star to leave them high and dry in Chris Bosh. The Raptors have their fans excited. If this excitement and expectation turns into some actual results, it could benefit the Raptors greatly.
The NBA schedule makers did not exactly make that an easy task for the Raptors to capture the imagination of the casual sports fan in Canada. To start the season, the Raptors see the Indiana Pacers twice and travel to Brooklyn for the opening of the new arena/home for the Nets. Road games challenging the Dallas Mavericks and Oklahoma City Thunder will not be easy, either. The Raptors would be happy to be 5-5 after their first 10 games given their very tough schedule.
The NHL has already started to cancel games, so it is up for debate when their labor issues will come to an end. While they are gone, the Raptors have a stage for their franchise to perform on and not have to battle the monster that is hockey in Canada. What they do with it this time could go a long way in expanding their fanbase in Canada.
The Raptors fight for attention in Toronto with Maple Leafs and in Canada with the sport of hockey all the time. Even with no NHL, they fight for time on sportscasts against the simple news of the NHL labor situation. But the Raptors, for the moment, are the biggest game in town and the only professional sports team in the country that will be playing games.
It is something they really can’t afford not to take advantage of with this second chance.