The Toronto Raptors had a breakthrough season in 2015-16, winning a franchise-best 56 games and reaching the conference finals for the first time ever. Last season, however, the club took a step back, winning 51 games and getting swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second-round of the playoffs.
Why did this happen? There are many reasons you can point to, but former Raptors forward DeMarre Carroll, who was just recently traded to the Brooklyn Nets, may have just offered one of the most telling to the National Post’s Ryan Wolstat.
“The say they’re going to try something different, I would love to see it (work). It’s always good to do it,” he said, adding he believes they will start the season trying to stick to the new plan.
“But once adversity hits and stuff starts going wrong, guys are going to go back to iso basketball — that’s how it is. You’ve got to trust it. It’s one of those things you’ve got to build. You’ve just got to trust each other. This year, I feel like a lot of guys didn’t trust each other, and a lot of guys, they didn’t feel like other guys could produce or (be) given the opportunity. There was a lot of lack of trust on our team, so that’s what hindered us from going (as far as they wanted to go).”
– National Post
Carroll is speaking to the so-called culture change Raptors president Masai Ujiri mentioned at his end-of-season press conference, alluding to the fact that Toronto needs to become a more prevalent three-point-shooting, floor-spacing, ball-sharing team.
The 30-year-old Carroll isn’t confident the Raptors – a team that saw 742 of their possessions last season end up in isolation plays (sixth-most in NBA) – can change their iso-identity. It’s also why Carroll says he never felt like a “good fit” in Toronto.
“Nah, I didn’t, personally, I didn’t,” Carroll said on Sportsnet 590 The FAN’s Prime Time Sports Monday. “Just with the iso-basketball and coming from a free-flowing offence like Atlanta, I never felt it was a good fit, but at the end of the day that was the path and I’ve got to try to move forward.”
Carroll came to the Raptors after spending two seasons with the Hawks – a team that focused heavily on whipping ball-movement and a sum-of-their-parts offence. He signed a four-year, $60-million contract with Toronto in 2015, despite initially having reservations about the way the team played in the first place.
“The main thing I looked at in free agency [in 2015] was just coming to a winning organization … so I felt like it was a good fit for me to come in,” Carroll said. “I knew they played iso-ball and I was a little skeptical about that but I thought I could kind of ease my way into it. My game is not complicated: Slash, three-pointers and play defence. So I thought I could ease my way into it but, sometimes, it just don’t work out.”
More so than the offence, however, Carroll believes the trust with this past season’s Raptors club really deteriorated on the defensive side of the ball.
“Not really on the offensive end, but I think defensively. We have to trust each other in all aspects of the game, but I just felt like it wasn’t there,” he said on Prime Time Sports. “If one guy gets beat there’s a clear lane to the goal and somebody’s pointing to somebody else. It’s one of those things where, as a team, you have to move like you’re on a string – if one guy moves the next guy moves. I just felt like we wasn’t on a string.”
Whether trust truly did break down among everyone in the Raptors’ locker room last season is unknown. It does appear, however, that it at least broke for Carroll, who also revealed he knew he was going to be dealt this summer.
“No surprise. I knew early on there was a deal in place. … I knew I was going to get traded.”