Friday, June 5, 2009
As Chris Bosh has announced his intentions to test the free agent market next off season his days in Toronto are or at least should be numbered. Only the most deluded Raptors fan could think that Bosh would re-sign after becoming a free agent. Bryan Colangelo cannot afford to let Bosh go for nothing and even though it is hard to get a fair trade in the NBA, for a player like Bosh (though he is overrated), something must be done and he will be traded if not in this offseason, at the trade deadline or in a sign-and-trade next offseason.
Bosh joins a list of disgruntled players that left Toronto either because they didn't want to play here or they got sick of playing here.
Damon Stoudamire, Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter, Alonzo Mourning, Kenny Anderson, and the first pick ever in the expansion draft, BJ Armstrong, all left because they were unhappy to be in Toronto and in the case of Mourning, Anderson and Armstrong refused to even report. McGrady left even though he knew he could, like Bosh, be paid more by the Raptors than any other team.
For a team with a relatively young history that is a worrisome trend. Then there is the inability of the team to draw first tier free agents. Sure they can attract the Garbajosa's and Jason Kapono's of the world but in order to be a successful team they must be able to get the big names to come to Toronto. The only big name they signed was Hakeep Olaujawon but that was when they overpaid for a player that was way past his prime. Does any Raptors fan even hold any hope that they could in the future?
A major reason for this is the misperception of Toronto and Canada that is prevalent in the United States. Toronto is seen as a cold foreboding place and even though many of the players who come here love the city, its culture and its people for new NBA players and those who don't get to visit the city on road trips as often the image remains.
Then there is also the assumption that playing in Canada denies you the ability to sign more lucrative merchandising deals. This is again a misconception as a player like Vince Carter signed huge deals despite being a member of the Raptors.
With Chris Bosh leaving the Raptors have to face the question of how they plan to attract and keep star players. They cannot build a championship team without it even if the European players they sign exceed expectations. They could try the route of building a team of hardworking players without a superstar but to win an NBA title like that, in a league that has so many dominant individuals, would be an unprecedented feat.
Even though the Raptors are very popular within the city of Toronto they have not dented the market outside of the city despite having a national television contract. They are continuously dwarfed by the TV ratings of any hockey or Blue Jays coverage. Non-Raptors NBA coverage gets ratings so low that even end of day static does better.
This poses a serious question for the future of the franchise. If the team continuously loses its good players and wallows amongst the dregs of the NBA how much of a future can they have in the city? How many fans will want to continue being a fan of a team that they know can never win because they cannot entice the players to come or stay? They will also be labelled as a losing team which will make players more reluctant to play here. It is a vicious cycle. Eventually the Raptors fans that do exist will become cynical if they aren't already. If the Raptors sign a great young player through the NBA Draft Toronto fans will shower him with praise and adulation but those who are not deluded will know or at least sense that come free agency chances are high he will go. Toronto has already shown that they will support the Raptors when they are successful but an unsuccessful Raptors team will soon be playing in front of empty houses. The Raptors despite being backed by Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment are not the Leafs and Toronto tends to support its winners. The patience of the casual fan will wear thin and they will stop showing up to Raptors games.
The Raptors organization has got to do a better job on selling Toronto to NBA players. Bryan Colangelo was brought in partly to change the perception of this team around the League and at that task he most surely has failed. If things do not change the team may be forced to go the way of so many past players and leave Toronto. Even though this may be a long ways off the discussion on what to do to avoid it must begin.