A bloody coin toss — of all things — cost the Toronto Raptors the player they really wanted.
And isn’t that in keeping with the sad and rather unfortunate history of this NBA franchise, which has been spinning its wheels and circling aimlessly forever and ever?
A lousy coin toss lost on April 27 in the league head office — the Raptors can’t even win a conference call — cost them a near sure-thing in Harrison Barnes, from North Carolina, where basketball is everything, and had them reaching at eighth pick for a big shooting guard in Washington’s Terrence Ross.
It was that close to something special ... and that far away.
“You have to take who’s there,” said coach Dwane Casey, hardly smiling, not entirely subscribing to the Brian Burke philosophy of pumping up draft picks. The Raptors went to their list, but what they really wanted, who they really wanted, was already gone.
Around here, it’s always about selling hope. There is not much else to believe in with the Raptors. This was draft night in the NBA, where everything revolves around the future, about suspending belief, about kids who will have to be men to succeed. And almost every year, if you love this team, you get kicked in the wrong place by circumstance — so much of it not of their own doing.
This year’s draft wasn’t supposed to be about last year’s draft for the Raptors, but that’s the sell now. It has to be. The pick who didn’t play a year ago, the Lithuanian Jonas Valanciunas, was more the story — even on the televised draft coverage — than the kid they drafted Thursday night.
Valanciunas is supposed to walk in to the Raptors starting lineup. Having never played a game, he is widely being touted as the next great Raptor. He will play centre. Andrea Bargnani will be moved to power forward.
The evolution of the roster is apparently taking place.
Casey talked excitedly about Valanciunas’ presence on draft night.
He answered the perfunctory questions about Ross with all the enthusiasm he could muster. He put on a happy face. He did what he could to make this sound terrific. He even sold the fact that Ross’ parents both played college basketball and that his mom taught him how to shoot — which apparently is his strength.
He can also play defence and run the court, which does make Casey happy. But he’s not NBA-ready.
“Would you start him in the NBA right now?” Casey repeated the question.
“No,” came the answer.
He didn’t hesitate. He didn’t try and snow anybody.
Barnes would have started for the Raptors at small forward. Instead, he’ll play for Golden State. To not get a starter with the eighth pick is a blow, no matter how you package it, the kind of blow this team seems to absorb year after year.
It almost goes back to the beginning with the Raptors, when they weren’t given appropriate draft positions from the beginning. Then they were prevented from selecting Allen Iverson when they won first pick overall because David Stern’s rules prevented expansion franchises from picking first in their initial seasons. The last time the Raps picked first in the draft there was no Anthony Davis or LeBron James available. They went off the board that year and took Bargnani.
Six years later, that seems all right (although Rajon Rondo is the best player from that draft). But for four of those six years, he was not.
It seems like it’s always a waiting game for the Raptors. When they get talent, they can’t keep it, and when they should get it, circumstances prevent it from the happening.
Maybe Terrence Ross will shock everyone. Maybe all those mock drafts that had him going 11th and 17th and 27th will be proven wrong. Maybe he’ll overcome the fact he played in a lousy conference in college. Maybe.
But the Raptors can’t afford to play the maybe game anymore. They can’t afford for Ross to be just another guy. They can’t afford to be crappy during the season and suspect on draft night.
“We’re excited to get him,” said Casey, who didn’t look that excited and referred to him as Plan B. The truth? He was probably Plan C. The Raptors needed someone to make an off the board pick before they made their off-the-board pick. It didn’t happen.
“We got a tremendous young man,” said Casey, and that doesn’t exactly set the phones ringing for ticket sales. A tremendous young man not ready to start for a team that needed a starter.