Benefits of hindsight

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:09 AM ET

All of us have fantasies of going back to our younger days, perhaps back to our old high schools, armed with the knowledge that maturity supposedly brings.

You know, it's all about the famous saying, "If I knew then what I know now ... "

Throughout the Raptors' 10 seasons, there have been many defining moments for this roller-coaster of a franchise, some obvious, some extremely subtle. Here is a year-by-year look at some of those occurrences:

1995-96

Defining moment: General manager Isiah Thomas cuts guard Chris Whitney on the eve of the season, against the wishes of coach Brendan Malone.

If we knew then what we know now: The Whitney situation was a clear indication that Thomas and Malone were not going to be able to co-exist. Thomas wanted Malone to start top draft pick Damon Stoudamire at the point, regardless of whether Whitney had played better during training camp. Stoudamire went on to win the NBA's rookie-of-the-year award and Malone was fired at season's end.

1996-97

Defining moment: Owner John Bitove loses control of the franchise to Allan Slaight.

If we knew then what we know now: Isiah Thomas' days in Toronto were numbered. Thomas, a part-owner of the club, had a right of first refusal with regard to available ownership shares. He wanted to become the majority owner, but that never worked out, with Slaight claiming Thomas didn't have all his ducks in a row, and Thomas claiming Slaight already had agreed to sell the Raptors to the Maple Leafs. Thomas left the Raptors for a TV gig in November 1997.

1997-98

Defining moment: The Maple Leafs purchase the Raptors and their not-yet-completed arena, the Air Canada Centre.

If we knew then what we know now: The arena Toronto had been waiting for would wind up being nothing spectacular in terms of esthetics. It really looks like a hangar outside. It's fan-friendly, but it doesn't stand out the way the "new Maple Leaf Gardens" should have stood out. And a lot of the nice touches the Raptors had planned for their hoops-first facility got nixed, too. What Toronto is left with is a building that is fine for hoops and hockey, but truly special for neither.

1998-99

Defining moment: General manager Glen Grunwald signs Michael (Yogi) Stewart to a one-year contract.

If we knew then what we know now: Stewart was a hot property at the time, and to lure Yogi away from Boston, the Raptors gave him a nudge-nudge-wink-wink kind of deal. Grunwald felt the Raptors had to win something, anything, to change their image. The next summer, the Raptors made good on their secret promise and signed Stewart to an eye-popping six-year, $24-million US contract. The club's pattern of overpaying out of desperation had begun.

Defining moment: Vince Carter wins the NBA slam-dunk contest.

If we knew then what we know now: First of all, this was another bullet in Tracy McGrady's gun, as he simmered over all the attention Carter was getting. But more importantly, this slam-dunk win, as exciting as it was, would define and pigeon-hole Carter, possibly for the remainder of his career. Some would argue that Carter has been dining out on the fame provided by this one magical night in February 2000 for the past 4 1/2 years.

2000-01

Defining moment: The Raptors advance to within a jump shot of the Eastern Conference final.

If we knew then what we know now: This was the end, not the beginning. It still represents the high-water mark. Everyone thought the Raptors were on their way to bigger and better things. But when Vince Carter's buzzer-beating attempt to win Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals against the Philadelphia 76ers clanked off the rim, it was like a loud bell had sounded to end a boxing match. The Raptors have made the playoffs only once since then.

2001-02

Defining moment: Vince Carter, Alvin Williams, Jerome Williams, Antonio Davis and Hakeem Olajuwon all get lucrative, long-term contracts.

If we knew then what we know now: The common knowledge at the time was that with the looming threat of a luxury tax and supposedly declining revenues league-wide, cost certainty was the order of the day. General manager Glen Grunwald universally was applauded for these moves. But now we know better: Another way to say "cost certainty" is 'a total lack of flexibility for years and years to come.'

2002-03

Defining moment: Vince Carter hurts his left knee in the third game of the season at Houston.

If we knew then what we knew now: Carter had missed 22 games because of injury the previous season, but it was hoped he had done the appropriate rehab work to correct the problem during the summer. Those dreams were dashed quickly. Carter would go on to play in only 43 games in 2002-03, and the Raptors would win only 24 times. Will Carter ever come close to being the same player again? He certainly isn't the athletic dunking machine he once was.

2003-04

Defining moment: Rookie coach Kevin O'Neill is hired to replace veteran coach Lenny Wilkens.

If we knew then what we know now: It turns out an intense tough-guy isn't what these players needed after all. The team didn't respond any better to the explosive O'Neill than it did to the sleepy Wilkens. That wasn't enough to save O'Neill's job -- he worked pretty hard to get himself fired -- but fans did start to look at this team differently.

Maybe the Raptors hadn't been underachieving. Perhaps the painful truth was they just weren't all that good.

2004-05

Possible defining moment: Vince Carter publicly asks to be traded.

So ... what will we know by the end of this season that we don't necessarily know right now?


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