We begin with a series of wild hypotheticals. The season is restarted, and you are Masai Ujiri. You prepare to relaunch the Raptors but you suddenly have The Last Dance version of Michael Jordan (important note: not the one smoking cigars and laughing at an iPad, the one who was still killing it on the court). An unprecedented situation — and one looking for a solution.
You have to create a core Raptors rotation for coach Nick Nurse to compete with the other league contenders — the Los Angeles teams and the Bucks (sorry, Sixers). You have the Raptors all-time roster to dip into, but you can’t just pick the cream of the crop. What was that? Yes, you may bring peak Raptor Vince Carter back — but it comes at a cost.
Just like a salary cap, you have $25 to build a core rotation for Nurse to surround a latter-stage Michael Jordan (eight players, including the GOAT). That leaves you twenty bucks to get seven more players. You’ve seen these sorts of GM games on social media, so let’s give this one a try. Who would you pick?
Note: Players are represented by their best years as a Raptor. So for example, the ‘98-’99 Tracy McGrady is not someone worth five points when he donned the Raptors jersey; that happened when he jumped to the Orlando Magic. Same with Marc Gasol; this is not the Gasol from ‘13-’15, when he was an All-NBA/All-Defense team member.
Knowing Nurse, you don’t need to pencil-in players into a traditional position. For example, Fred VanVleet or Kyle Lowry could very well be a shooting guard in Nurse’s rotation. The Raptors have a lot of PF/C types, so they can be interchangeable. You can get as creative as you can be — I mean, more creative than a scenario in which the likes of Masai Ujiri, Michael Jordan, peak Raptors, and $25 bucks all intersect.
Some Additional Considerations:
Since this scenario calls for the Raptors to go against the LA teams and the Bucks, we’re taking the following names out of roster consideration: Kawhi Leonard, Lou Williams, and Danny Green. We can’t have a Kawhi vs. Kawhi time-warp battle here — and they’re a bunch of bums anyway, right?
We’re also going to go ahead and take a few names out, to save you perspective GMs from yourselves. (Bryan Colangelo, if you’re reading this, this goes double for you.) In this world, that means: Jerome Williams, Bismack Biyombo, and Reggie Evans, who were all fan favourites but liabilites on offense, are out. More names: T.J. Ford, the 2001 version of Hakeem Olajuwon, and ‘08 Jermaine O’Neal were either washed or injured a lot.
OK, enough rules. Let’s get to the main event and select some players.
The Player Table
To make things a bit clearer, here are the players we’re talking about at their approximate positions:
Wings: Michael Jordan, Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady, OG Anunoby, Norman Powell, Terrence Ross, Morris Peterson, Doug Christie, Shawn Marion, Jalen Rose, Dell Curry, Rudy Gay, CJ Miles, Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon.
Some Table Assignment Thoughts
Obviously, given the scenario, there are going to be some choices to make here in terms of setting up the actual table. There are some assignments here that I went back and forth on, such as swapping Siakam with Stoudamire for the $5 slot. I am also unsure whether I’m underrating Camby’s run ($3) and overrating Gasol’s ($4).
I went a bit hard on better talent but poor Raptors run (Gay and Bargnani at $1). I also thought that there’s an argument for putting Amir, Jose, and Ross at the $3 spot. Maybe this is all off — but it’s also my hypothetical, so that’s how it goes.
Justifying The Picks
I’m a Kyle Lowry Over Everything guy, so it’s a given that he’ll be my starting point guard. However, with Jordan on the roster, I can see multiple scenarios of having lesser quality guards like Alvin Williams, Jose Calderon, or even a combo guard like Doug Cristie or Jalen Rose.
Though impossible to replace I’d need a Pippen to match with this version of Jordan. In short, I’d need a 3+D wing. For that, I’m hoping that OG Anunoby can continue to play like he did this season. This is a defensive pick, because he’s got added length/size compared to Terrence Ross or Mo Pete. Another name that I also considered here is Shawn Marion — though his brief appearance as a Raptor is not really a peak.
For the power forward spot, recency bias got me picking Pascal Siakam because, based on what he’s shown us for the past two years, he might be a better option than Chris Bosh. I have also thought about having a Bosh/Siakam frontcourt, but I’m not sure if they would be enough to keep Giannis Antetokounmpo at bay.
In the middle, I got the older Marc Gasol. Nurse would probably employ variations of the triangle, and there’s no better Raptor big for Jordan to pivot off on a triangle. If MJ could make it work with Luc Longley, then he can definitely get cooking with late-period Gasol.
My Raptors bench consists of Amir Johnson, Anthony Parker, and Donyell Marshall. Peak Raptors Amir should give me a safety net if Gasol gets into early foul trouble — not as good as Ibaka, but better than, let’s say, Greg Monroe would do.
Fresh from the Euroleague, Parker should provide a solid option at SG/SF off the bench, and I’m excited to see Nurse play a frontcourt of Siakam/Marshall/Johnson. That trio has all kinds of offensive and defensive abilities when put together.
Jordan, Siakam, and Lowry would have to shoulder the scoring load, but my team should have enough length, versatility, and defensive options to game plan against Kawhi, LeBron, Anthony Davis, and Giannis. I also can imagine Nurse running with a Jordan-Anunoby-Siakam-Marshall-Johnson for a few minutes. So that’s my roster.
How would you construct a Jordan-led all-time Raptors lineup?