First and foremost lets acknowledge that football and basketball are very different sports. Let’s also acknowledge the Toronto Raptors and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in very different places as teams in their respective league’s.
All of this acknowledged however, there are lessons to be learned by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from the Toronto Raptors. Lessons which helped lead the NBA part of this column to a championship.
And while we’re at it, yes we can acknowledge that without injuries to Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson this series may have turned out differently. Hell, we can also acknowledge that without the injury to Carson Wentz the Philadelphia Eagles may not have won the Super Bowl in 2018. How’s that shoe fit on the other foot? Moving on.
Recently, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made the decision to move on from a franchise centerpiece who has been credited with getting the franchise closer to capturing professional sports glory, despite never reaching the apex of the sport. And they did so in part to help out their new head coach.
When the team moved on from Gerald McCoy it came with mixed reactions. Some fans were incensed by the thought this franchise could be so disrespectful to one of their cornerstone players. So unappreciative of the years of sweat and work and struggle all in the name of getting their brand, their logo, their team to the top.
Instead, the franchise is bringing in Ndamukong Suh. A well known player and name in his own right, but not without baggage. Baggage which may not make him workout for our franchise. Baggage which might actually make him a worse fit. Plus, he’s only here on a one-year deal and is likely out the door the following season. So in making this move we’re giving up one year of potential for almost a decade of proven contribution.
This didn’t sit well, to say the least.
In about one month (July 18th) we’ll hit the one-year anniversary of the Toronto Raptors trading for Kawhi Leonard. They did so in part to help out their new head coach.
Time for more acknowledgements. Leonard was a championship winning player coming from one of the best franchise’s this century. Suh is a solid defensive player joining his fourth team having never won a championship himself.
However, in this case the similarities don’t necessarily point directly to the caliber of player as much as they do the mentality of the player and potential influence on the franchise.
To get Leonard, the Raptors had to move on from Demar DeRozan. DeRozan spent the first nine years of his career with Toronto. Helped make the franchise one to be taken seriously year after year. Yet, they always seemed to fall short of their goals.
Still, he became a fan favorite. One of the best to ever wear their uniform. And then he was shipped out in favor of new blood. While some Raptors fans were undoubtedly happy they were acquiring one of the best talents in the NBA, there were questions. How could the Raptors do this to DeRozan? After all he’d done for them and meant to them, wasn’t that worth something?
Also, the question about Leonard was whether or not he even wanted to play in Toronto. Would he give all of his effort. I mean, if he couldn’t make it work with a championship caliber team in San Antonio, how would it work with the Raptors?
Fans were upset they lost one of their favorite players. A player they genuinely wanted to see be a part of the team's success. But eventually, their sympathy pains turned into excitement.
It feels like overnight, but the process is apparent if you look closer. The Raptors went from a team who lived on big plays who lived to outscoring their opponents into one who could work inside and out while leaning on a new defensive mentality focused on making opponents earn every digit.
But it wasn’t just because they moved on from DeRozan and brought in Leonard. Suh and Leonard are alike in their on-field persona in that they both have a head down, do your job, and do it well approach. Neither is willing to ‘bow’ for anyone, and they don’t ask their teammates to follow them as much as they ask them to do it with them.
Leonard replaced a guy who was successful, and good in his own right for sure. But the personalities are different. Smiles and laughs and the joy of playing a ‘kid’s game’ as a profession. The Raptors needed a new approach. So they gave up everything to get it.
Like Kyle Lowry in July of 2018, Lavonte David was not apparently happy with what had gone down. But like Lowry, David has acknowledged the business side of the game and there is no doubt he will play his heart out like he always has.
And like Leonard, Suh has also acknowledged the stature of the man he replaced. However, didn’t shy Leonard away from taking up his spot on the roster and it won’t keep Suh from doing the same.
No, Ndamukong Suh isn’t the Kawhi Leonard of the NFL. But, looking at how the Raptors redesigned their franchise, there are similarities.
They pissed off some of their fans. They upset the balance of their team for a period of time. Potentially even pissed off one of their best players in doing so.
However, what they did was bring a new attitude into practice, into the locker room and onto the field. They brought in a guy who brought the right amount of grit to the right position at the right time.
I’m not saying the Buccaneers are going to win a Super Bowl because the Raptors won an NBA title. What I’m saying is, there is now a very recent precedent of a new coach with a new player bringing in a new style to the franchise they’ve joined, becoming successful very quickly despite the pain it might have caused in the process.
What the Toronto Raptors did was risk everything they’d done up to that point in July of 2018 to win one hell of a bright and shiny biscuit in 2019. A biscuit nobody thought they’d get that off-season when they shipped away one of their franchise’s best players and brought in a man with seemingly bigger problems than the one before him.
What I’m saying is, the story sounds a bit familiar. Let’s hope the ending follows the plot.