Lakers vs. Raptors: This Is How You Rebuild


The Lakers play Toronto on Friday night. The Lakers beat the Raptors in overtime on November 30th.

In 2010, Chris Bosh’s free agency left the Toronto Raptors gasping for air. Seven years earlier, in the 2003 draft, the Raptors selected Bosh with the 4th pick. Unable to surround him with appropriate talent as the years went by, Bosh’s sudden defection wasn’t much of a secret. But, it had a powerful organizational impact when it happened with such a public celebratory spectacle. All the air was sucked out of the Raptors balloon because they knew the truth about replacing an All-Star: it was an exercise in insanity.

Bosh was the Raptors leading scorer and rebounder and was the face of the franchise. Thus the Raptors had officially entered the dark recesses of an abyss as they were staring at the bottom of the barrel. All that was in the cupboard was Demar DeRozan, a 20 year old wing player from Compton who could score off the dribble, shooter Jarrett Jack, Westchester High School big man Amir Johnson, and point guard Jose Calderon.

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The year Chris Bosh left the Raptors organization in ashes, the Raptors won 22 games. The next year wasn’t much better. They won 23 games.

In the 2011 lottery, the Raptors had the 5th pick and selected Lithuanian big man Jonas Valanciunus. In 2012, with the 8th pick, the Raptors selected Terence Ross, an athletic guard out of the University of Washington.

But, what the Raptors needed more than talent on the floor was an aggressive, intellectual leader in the front office who understood not just the future of the NBA but how to reverse repressive circumstances. 41 year old Nigerian born, Masai Ujiri, returned to Toronto in 2013 to serve as General Manager. He had previously held the job of Raptors Assistant General Manager.

Extroverted, passionate, shrewd and a visionary, Ujiri, as the Nuggets G.M., navigated the Carmelo Anthony to New York trade, whereas the Nuggets received multiple players and draft picks and ended up with a better record post-Carmelo trade than the Knicks with Carmelo.

Inheriting talented young players as well as veterans Rudy Gay and Kyle Lowry and a defensive coach in Dwayne Casey, was a starting point for Ujiri to begin cleaning house, trading deadweight contracts like Jose Calderon and Andrea Bargnani. He added Patrick Patterson, and Greivis Vasquez to back up Lowry at the point.

The Raptors won 34 games the season before Ujiri came on board. His first year, they won their division, winning 48 games- a franchise record- and made the playoffs for the first time in six years. All of a sudden, Ujiri faced pressure. Kyle Lowry, his most important player, was a free agent seeking a max deal with plenty of suitors in the wings. Ujiri reminded Lowry that Toronto was his home, they were his people. If he took less money, the Raptors would build their franchise in his image.

If the Raptors finish the season 8-2, they will win 50 games, an improbable thought, much less suggestion, when Chris Bosh joined forces with Lebron James and Dwayne Wade five summers ago.

The Raptors have all the required pieces. They have big men in Johnson and Valuncunias. They have a creator in DeRozan and toughness and leadership in Lowry. They have three point shooting in Lou Williams and an athletic freak in Terrence Ross.

Not to confuse the issue, but no one on the Raptors is as skilled as Bosh But, Bosh was just one player. Ujiri built a roster of complimentary players that fit together That is all a G.M. is asked to do: look at the trends, evaluate correctly, act upon a gut instinct, know what you stand for, manage the economics wisely and embrace risk, not fear.

Appropriately, Masai Ujiri, is ranked the 10th best General Manager in the NBA ( while Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak is ranked 26th. The Raptors are the 4th seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs while the sad Lakers are trying to lose as many games as possible.

Next: Steve Nash: His Greatest Lakers Assist