Tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of the Toronto Raptors winning the 2019 NBA championship. They did it with a roster that some believed wouldn’t achieve such an accolade — even with the addition of star Kawhi Leonard.
It’s a roster that president Masai Ujiri and general manager Bobby Webster constructed with their brilliant basketball minds, with actions like the signing of Fred VanVleet and drafting Pasacal Siakam. But they also had to get lucky. The New York Knicks had to decline the trade that would’ve given them Kyle Lowry, with James Dolan fearing he was going to lose again — having already been embarrassed in the Andrea Bargnani trade.
It’s funny though. That Bargnani trade has some connections to the Raptors championship roster, and so does the 2005 free agency summer. It’s been a long journey to the gold for Toronto.
So, as we come upon the celebration of the Raptors first championship anniversary, let’s take a look at the roster tree and how the 2018-19 roster was constructed.
Kwahi Leonard and Danny Green
This trade goes all the way back to the one, the only, Andrea Bargnani.
On July 18, 2018, the Raptors brought in Leonard and Green in exchange for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a protected 2019 first round pick. When going down this branch on the Raptors’ tree, the DeRozan line ends in 2009 as he was the teams own first round draft pick in 2009. (That 2019 pick for the Spurs became Keldon Johnson at #29, if you were wondering.)
Where things lead back to Bargnani is the drafting of Poeltl.
Camby was bought out and Richardson was waived months later. Novak was the only player the Raptors got in the trade that played for the team, but he was traded the next offseason to the Jazz for Diante Garrett, who was waived right after.
Here’s the thing about that 2016 first rounder: The Raptors would get the least favorable pick in the first round between Denver or New York. The Nuggets landed on #7 and the Knicks (or in this case the Raptors) at #9.
Canada’s own Jamal Murray was taken by the Nuggets at #7. Then the Kings proceeded to draft and trade Marquese Chriss to the Suns at #8, which developed into the Raptors taking Poeltl with their pick.
Therefore, had the Raptors not been bad in the 2005-06 season to win the draft lottery and draft Bargnani, Kawhi may not have ever been a Raptor or maybe the Raptors would’ve had to sacrifice Siakam instead since he was the other draft pick in 2016.
Obviously, the trade worked out, even though Kawhi and Green are both in Los Angeles with the Clippers and Lakers, respectively. Toronto won the title, and we discovered that Siakam is the future of the Raptors franchise.
One of the luckiest days in Raptors history was when Dolan nixed the deal for the Knicks to acquire Lowry because of the Bargnani deal mentioned above. In this, Ujiri was lucky Dolan feared saying yes to acquiring Lowry, or the Raptors would look different. Still, Ujiri played a part in landing Lowry in the first place.
On July 5, 2012, the Raptors got Lowry from the Houston Rockets for Gary Forbes and a 2013 first-round pick. That pick was eventually traded in the Thunder-Rockets James Harden deal with OKC drafting Steven Adams at #12.
Meanwhile, Gary Forbes is probably a top-10 forgotten Raptor. Ujiri, who is famously known for signing talented undrafted free agents (VanVleet and Terence Davis), signed Forbes in 2010 as training camp invitation after the guard had stints overseas and in the NBA’s (then) D-League.
One season and 63 games later with the Nuggets, Forbes became a restricted free agent, to which Bryan Colangelo (then-Raptors president) offered him an offer sheet in December 2011. It gave Ujiri and the Nuggets the chance to match the Raptors’ offer, which they ultimately decided not too.
Only after the 2011-12 season concluded, Forbes was dealt for Lowry and never played another NBA game. I’m sure the Raptors could’ve offered any player to get Lowry from the Rockets in addition to that pick that was involved in the deal, but in this case, Ujiri passing up re-signing Forbes did help the Raptors in the long run.
Norman Powell and OG Anunoby and Serge Ibaka
This branch to the Raptors championship roster goes back to 2005.
On draft night in 2015 the Raptors traded Greivis Vasquez to the Milwaukee Bucks for their #46 pick and the Clippers first round pick in 2017. The Bucks selected Powell for the Raptors in that 2015 draft, and in 2017 the Clippers pick landed at #23, where the Raptors drafted Anunoby.
Vasquez came over to the Raptors in a December 8, 2013 midseason trade, alongside Patrick Patterson, John Salmons, and Chuck Hayes. Going to the Sacramento Kings in that deal were Rudy Gay, Quincy Acy, and Aaron Gray. We all know how that worked out for Toronto.
Patterson stuck with the Raptors until the end of the 2016-17 season and then signed with the Thunder. Salmons played a season and then was eventually traded for Lou Williams and the rights to Lucas Nogueira. Williams lef Toronto as free agent a year later while Nogueira stuck around for four seasons. Hayes played two seasons before signing with the Rockets. And that ends the tree branches for all those players.
For the three players that were traded to the Kings in that Dec. 8 deal: Acy was a Raptors second round pick in 2012 and Gray was picked up as a free agent. Their stories don’t quite hold much significance in the championship roster.
Gay, on the other hand, came over in a three-team deal.
On January 30, 2013 the Raptors got Gay and Hamed Haddadi (never played a game for the Raps); Austin Daye and Tayshaun Prince went from the Pistons to the Grizzlies and the Raptors traded 2010 draft pick Ed Davis to Memphis as well; and the Raptors shipped long-time point guard and fan favourite Jose Calderon to the Pistons.
Calderon was a 2005 free agent signing by the Raptors, and that’s how this branch travels that far back. An undrafted European talent signing from 2005 being a factor in 2019.
Zarum attributes the Raptors drafting Powell in 2015 as the reason the Raptors were able to trade Terrence Ross to the Magic for Ibaka on February 14, 2017. There was enough wing depth to make such a move.
That season the Raptors wing rotation also had DeRozan and DeMarre Carroll starting together, Cory Joseph saw some time on the court with Lowry, and only seven days after the Ross trade, the Raptors brought in P.J. Tucker right before the trade deadline.
The acquisition of Gasol is the easiest to explain.
There isn’t much to explain about the Miles free agent signing in the summer of 2017 either, besides the Raptors needing a shooter after a summer of shuffling some depth. Tucker, who as mentioned was acquired at the deadline in February, became a free agent and left to sign with the Rockets. Also explained above, Ross was traded for Ibaka. And lastly, about eight days before signing Miles, the Raptors got rid Carroll’s contract by trading him to Brooklyn.
The need to fill the wing depth opened the door to signing Miles.
A couple good draft picks by the Raptors and shuffling of the wing position in the summer of 2017, pieced together what was needed to bring in Gasol for the playoffs — or should I say a championship run.
And that’s how the core of the Raptors championship roster ultimately came together, thanks to some unlikely players right there at the root.