The Toronto Raptors are tired of losing.
For the past five seasons the Raptors have been in the midst of a rebuilding process. It has been long and arduous, but it seems as though the organization has turned a corner and may be ready to compete for the playoffs this season.
That, at least, is the opinion of many of the Raptors players who have put in the work this summer to ensure that they don’t experience a repeat of their 34-48 season last year, which was good for last place in the Atlantic Division.
“Personally, the way I approach workouts all summer is, this is my fifth year [and] I’m tired of going home early, watching everybody else play, watching my friends play,” guard DeMar DeRozan said at Raptors media day on Monday. “It’s sickening to me, I get tired of [it].”
DeRozan’s impassioned words speak volumes about how difficult it has been for Toronto’s longest serving player. During his four seasons with the team, the Raptors have never won more than 40 games.
“Me, personally, I work my ass off so we can play in that moment. Be a team that eight, seven, six, whatever spot it is – to have that opportunity to play,” DeRozan continued. “So that’s my goal and I’m sure everybody on this team feels that way.”
DeRozan isn’t the only one that worked hard this off-season. Starting point guard Kyle Lowry has entered training camp in the best shape of his career as he hopes to avoid injuries that plagued him during most of last season. Those injuries were a big reason why the Raptors stumbled so mightily.
“Just to be prepared for an 82-game season, hopefully longer,” Lowry said about his off-season regimen. “Just to be prepared mentally [and] physically for the long haul, to be able to not have any worries or any injuries come back – make sure I’m taking precautionary efforts not to get injured and to do whatever I have to take to stay strong the whole year.”
Both DeRozan and Lowry are a big part of a key core of players that will need to be at the top of their games in order for the Raptors to see the post-season.
Another advantage the Raptors are going to have heading into the upcoming campaign is the fact that they have nine returning players on the roster. New general manager Masai Ujiri recognized how well the team gelled towards the end of last season after the acquisition of Rudy Gay and opted to keep the team largely the same.
“I think we had three months [over the summer] with a lot of the guys back – eight or nine of us,” said Lowry. “So that is going to be huge for us going into camp, knowing what to expect, knowing how coach is going to run camp, how coach is going to run situations. So it’s always good to have that little but if a jump start.”
With an off-season’s worth of preparation behind them, this group of players is going to have to prove they deserve to be considered a playoff team in the Eastern Conference.
Head coach Dwane Casey is going to put them through the wringer during training camp, but even he admits that it is on the players now to take care of business.
“None of us have an excuse, “said Casey. “There is no out. What is your cop-out? It’s right here, it’s the same team, same group.”
Come Oct. 30 – when the Raptors take on the Boston Celtics in their regular-season opener at the Air Canada Centre – fans will find out if this team is indeed ready to put all of the losing behind them.