Underdog Week: The 2009-10 Toronto Raptors were the squad that paved Toronto’s way to greatness

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Hey, remember the 2008-09 Toronto Raptors? If you do, well, here’s hoping you don’t remember a whole lot beyond what’s absolutely necessary: the team was terrible, coach Sam Mitchell was fired 17 games in, and Jay Triano took over to produce much of the same results. For as lousy as that season was, it did churn out one big, glaring silver lining: Bryan Colangelo was sick of his team playing losing basketball and he was about to do some big things about it. He was going to turn next year’s Raptors of 2009-10 into the underdog they deserved to be.

The Raptors knew what they had in star player Chris Bosh, had just traded for Reggie Evans, and were banking on the continued improvement of their 2006 first overall pick Andrea Bargnani. Knowing the team had a relatively solid big-man core and really not having much of a choice with the lack of credible better options available, Colangelo went into the 2009 Draft and selected Compton native and fellow string bean, DeMar DeRozan with the ninth overall pick. Now, if you weren’t watching Raptors basketball during this era, you should know that rookie DeMar couldn’t hold a candle to present day DeMar, but the Raps needed a young guard and a young guard they got.

Was Colangelo done there? Oh hellllllll no! Two weeks later, he swung a massive four-team trade that landed Devean George, Antoine Wright and, with the promise of a new contract, Hedo Turkoglu. That’s right, the Hedo Turkoglu! Hedo Turkoglu of playoff flame-thrower fame. The guy who was, behind Dwight Howard, arguably the most important player on the 2009 Orlando Magic that lost in the Finals to the behemoth Lakers.

This was one of the biggest gets in Toronto Raptors history and Colangelo still had more ammo in the chamber. After the big trade, Colangelo signed Jarrett Jack (good friend of Bosh), Rasho Nesterovic (because you needed three 7-footers in the 2009-10 NBA), and traded for sharpshooter Marco Belinelli, the beloved Amir Johnson, and the untapped potential of Sonny Weems.

The Raptors’ underdog narrative was set perfectly and if you’ve been a fan since before the championship season, you can probably guess what happened next. They stunk right out of the gate! Sure, Bosh was newly jacked and the offense was humming, but the defense, my God the defense! Toronto ended up finishing dead last in several defensive categories (their worst defensive rating in franchise history to boot) while finishing in the top five in many offensive categories. Now, much of the defensive issues could be blamed on a relatively new head coach having to work a almost entirely new roster into a contender basically overnight, but it didn’t change the fact that the Raptors were looking less like an underdog and more like a dog’s breakfast.

Triano wasn’t solely to blame, of course. A large part of that blame fell squarely on the shoulders of their new $53 million dollar man, Hedo Turkoglu. To say he looked like a shell of himself would be a massive understatement. Turkoglu consistently looked disinterested and was routinely out of shape. Did it help that he starred in a Pizza Pizza commercial that portrayed him as a lazy lay-about who blew off his coaches instructions? Probably not.

As it turns out, Hedo was unhappy about his role with the Raptors and showed out against the Knicks to prove he could be his old self. The infamous “Ball” game turned out to be the catalyst that propelled the Raptors to nearly redeeming their season before squandering it late in the second half of the season and finishing just one game out of the playoffs.

But this underdog story turned disappointment cannot be sold short. Yes, it unceremoniously marked the end of Chris Bosh’s tenure as a Raptor. Yes, the team was a putrid 79-151 over the next three seasons, but those three seasons were monumental for the maturity, leadership, and growth of that ninth overall draft pick that Colangelo landed. The team immediately belonged to DeMar and, well, the kid from Compton came through in his career as a Raptor. DeRozan paved the way for the next wave of underdog Toronto teams and was the lynchpin in Toronto becoming an eventual champion.

Yes he did.