I’d certainly rather be sitting here discussing current Toronto Raptors and their outlook amidst the NBA playoff picture, but it just wasn’t meant to be. Now, Raptors fans have to content themselves with jumping on a new bandwagon and adopting a temporary, still-active favorite for the purposes of postseason rooting interest.
While it won’t make up for Toronto’s absence from postseason play, at least there won’t be any shortage of familiar faces to check in on.
Already in the play-in round, we saw Oshae Brissett post a game-high 23 points in the Indiana Pacers’ 144-117 win over Charlotte, while Jonas Valanciunas and the Memphis Grizzlies took care of business against San Antonio and Golden State.
With the play-in complete and the entire, 16-team playoff field set, here is your guide to the former members of the Raptors organization still hoping to help their current club raise the ‘Larry OB’.
Ex-Raptors: Danny Green, Assistant Coach Popeye Jones, Assistant Coach Eric Hughes
Headed to the playoffs with his fourth team in as many seasons, Green has a real shot at a third consecutive ring in Philadelphia. With the Sixers, he’s filling the same 3-and-D starting role he’s had in San Antonio, Toronto and LA. Doc Rivers’ coaching staff also has some Raptor connections, with former player Popeye Jones and former assistant Eric Hughes on the bench.
Ex-Raptor: Alize Johnson
We’re admittedly stretching the notion of ‘ex-Raptor’ here a bit, given that Alize Johnson’s tenure came exclusively with Raptors 905. But given the double-double machine’s value with 905 and the support he received for the big club to sign him before joining Brooklyn, inclusion here seems warranted.
That said, Johnson isn’t expected to have much of a playoff role on the loaded Nets.
Ex-Raptors: P.J. Tucker, Axel Toupane
It won’t come as a surprise to Raptors fans that Tucker has been an x-factor for the Milwaukee Bucks since arriving from Houston at the trade deadline. The veteran did essentially the same thing four years ago as a deadline addition in Toronto.
Now, the 35-year-old is responsible for leading a defensive effort that will target Jimmy Butler and then possibly the Brooklyn Nets’ Big 3.
Ex-Raptor: Lou Williams
Williams may not have wanted to go from the Clippers to the Atlanta Hawks this past March, but the move still presented a homecoming, both as a former Hawk and a Georgia native. In 24 games with Atlanta, the three-time Sixth Man of the Year excelled from three (44.4%) but strangely struggled mightily from inside the arc (37%).
Ex-Raptor: Alex Len
At no point in Alex Len’s disappointing, seven-game tenure with the Raptors to start the year did he look the part of a playoff starter, but here we are. While the Ukrainian big man is starting for the Washington Wizards, he isn’t typically finishing games and has lost minutes to Daniel Gafford.
Alex Len struggled for the Toronto Raptors.
Still, it’ll be a bit jarring seeing Len contest the opening tip against Joel Embiid in their Philly series.
Ex-Raptor: Matt Thomas
Thomas wasn’t getting many opportunities this season with the struggling Raptors, so it was unreasonable to think he’d suddenly be a rotation staple with the No. 1 Utah Jazz. While the sharpshooter maximized a late April garbage time opportunity with 17 points on 7-7 shooting, it’s hard to see him having much of a role with the Jazz in the playoffs.
Los Angeles Clippers
Ex-Raptors: Kawhi Leonard, Serge Ibaka, Patrick Patterson, Assistant Coach Chauncey Billups, Assistant Coach Jeremy Castleberry
The Los Angeles Clippers’ sizable contingent of ex-Raps elicits some mixed and strong emotions. Leonard and Ibaka were integral components to the 2019 title, but chose to leave rather than remain in Toronto. Patrick Patterson was a fan favorite, but then did the same in his free agent year.
The same even holds true among the coaches with Raptor ties. A young, pre-stardom Billups played 16 games for the woeful, 16-win 1997-98 club before being shipped out, while Jeremy Castleberry rode his friend Leonard’s coattails right out of town and to LA.
Portland Trail Blazers
Ex-Raptors: Norman Powell, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
The mutual admiration society between Toronto and Portland has been at peak levels since the Norman Powell-Gary Trent Jr. trade, so it only makes sense for Raptor fans to back Powell and jump aboard the Blazers’ bandwagon.
While Powell is expected to assume a central role for Portland’s playoff run, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, with four straight DNP’s to close the regular season, is not.
Los Angeles Lakers
Ex-Raptors: Marc Gasol, Alfonzo McKinnie, Assistant Coach Phil Handy
For any Raptors fans hoping to see a vintage, turn-back-the-clock playoff performance from Gasol, the Los Angeles Lakers’ play-in game against the Golden State Warriors might have doused those hopes.
The thrilling 103-100 win produced exactly zero minutes of floor time for Gasol, with the Lakers sticking with Andre Drummond and Montrezl Harrell and using Anthony Davis at center.
Head coach Frank Vogel may still find a use for Gasol as a defensive option to vex Phoenix Suns big man Deandre Ayton, but he’s clearly lower down the depth chart at the moment. We could mostly be watching him on the sidelines alongside Alfonzo McKinnie and assistant coach Phil Handy for the defending champs.
Ex-Raptor: Jonas Valanciunas
Ja Morant might be the man in Memphis, but Jonas Valanciunas is earning fans all over again as a member of the Grizzlies. The Lithuanian big is coming off a career-best season (17.1 points per game, 12.5 rebounds per game, and 59.2% shooting are all career highs) and was integral in helping Memphis squeeze past the Spurs and Warriors in the play-in.
Unless you were a particularly fanatic supporter of one of these players in their Toronto days, then no, seeing them enjoy postseason success in another uniform isn’t likely to bring much joy and satisfaction without the Raptors around to cheer on. But hey, we’re going to be watching anyway, so might as well keep an eye out for these familiar faces!