Raptors Mailbag: What would Toronto’s all-time starting five look like?


Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard (2) and Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) celebrate defeating the Golden State Warriors basketball action in Game 6 of the NBA Finals. (Frank Gunn/CP)

Welcome to the first edition of Eric Smith’s Toronto Raptors Mailbag.

Throughout the season, Eric will compile some of your burning Raptors questions and answer them here in this space. If you have a question for Eric, tweet them to @Sportsnet or directly to him (@Eric__Smith) with the hashtag #RaptorsMailbag.

And now, without further ado, over to Eric who as he reveals his all-time Raptors starting five and more.

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Q: Will the NBA ever widen basketball courts? It seems very tight for these players to make three-pointers with the current boundaries?

Respectfully, I don’t really see this as a major issue. Is it somewhat tight on the sidelines and in the corners? Sure, but there’s plenty of room to work elsewhere on the court. And there’s certainly ample room, above the arc, on the wings and straight away.

However, if you’re looking for changes, I could perhaps see the NBA experimenting or toying with the idea of a four-point shot long before they changed the actual dimensions of the court.

Players are regularly pulling up from 25-30 feet now so often it has become commonplace. They’re finding room with relative ease. Plus, Ice Cube’s Big 3 league employs a similar four-point shot wrinkle, and the NBA has used the G League as a guinea pig for other potential changes or ideas in the past – they’re currently testing the use of and number of free throws awarded in the G League, a change that may or may not make it to the NBA one day.

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Q: It’s amazing that fans and media are so close to action. I’m curious to know your thoughts about the potential result of a superstar, or any other player, getting injured by landing on a camera worker behind the baseline.

First of all, to be clear, there isn’t a ton of media on the floor these days.

Radio broadcasters have been bumped up to auxiliary broadcast locations (built into the stands) in about 75 per cent of NBA arenas. Ditto for the writers, and TV commentators have started to move in a number of cities, too. More often than not, those folks you see on the floor are game operations personnel and members of the stats crew and team public relations staff. Plus, those people, and the limited members of the media that remain courtside, are separated by the scorer’s table and/or advertisement boards.

So, really, we’re only talking about the baseline, and I acknowledge that it can be an issue.

We’ve seen players collide into or trip over people on the sidelines in the past –whether it be TV mamera people or photographers. There are designated areas for those video operators or still photographers in the way of lines painted on the floor, but the problem is those people are often right on the feet, literally, of the people that are sitting in those expensive baseline seats.

As players get bigger and more athletic I think there’s a concern that perhaps more real estate is needed on those baselines so that players have an ample area to land. But the solution to that could involve pushing the photographers and videographers back even further, which might entail removing a row or two of those baseline seats, a move that would cost teams hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars over the course of a year based on the value of those tickets. So it’s certainly a Catch-22, in my opinion, as you factor in the safety of the players as well as the profitability of your business.

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Q: What would your all-time Raptors starting five look like?

Just a few short years ago this was probably a relatively easy answer, but trades and signings and the championship victory have certainly changed the options available.

For instance where would Pascal Siakam and Marc Gasol land on this list? Have they already moved into that starting five? Assuming you’re talking about the five that would be best suited to actually win – and not basing this on longevity or popularity or other intangibles – here’s who I would go with: Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Vince Carter, Kawhi Leonard, and Chris Bosh.

Admittedly, that would be a small lineup, but I’m willing to take my chances with that group. I think they could be lethal.

However, for the sake of argument, if you don’t allow me to play Leonard at the four, then I will switch things up and go with this: Lowry, Carter, Leonard, Bosh, and Gasol (just slightly ahead of Jonas Valanciunas).

It’s a very interesting question, and one that I’m sure could be debated for quite a while. I think there are at least three names that are staples for just about everyone, but I’m sure we could bicker or nitpick over at least one or two names. There really is no wrong answer.

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Q: What’s your fondest Jose Calderon memory? What’s his legacy with the Raptors?

To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure what you mean by legacy. I will simply say that he is one of the most popular Raptors in franchise history and a guy that wore the organization and the city on his sleeve. He has nothing but love for Toronto and for Canada and all of the fans. He’s also one of the classiest people I have covered and gotten to know in my 20-plus years working Raptors games and the NBA.

I have nothing but positive things to say about Calderon, and when it comes to his actual basketball acumen, his International success speaks for itself as does the longevity of his NBA career and the impact he has made on so many teammates in his various stops. Plus, his name is still scattered throughout a number of the top-10 lists in Toronto’s history books/records.

Perhaps ironically – or maybe fittingly – the best memory I have of him has nothing to do with his passing skillsm his three-point shooting or his deadeye accuracy at the free-throw line. It has to do with his heart as a teammate, his sportsmanship and overall kindness. It goes back to the Boston Garden when Jorge Garbajosa was chasing down Al Jefferson late in a ball game between the Celtics and Raptors.

Jefferson was on a break and ready to throw down a dunk that would have little to no impact on the scoreboard as Boston was going to beat Toronto either way. But Garbajosa, being the competitor that he always was, was not about to give up a freebie and chased down Jefferson. The two men collided mid-air and fell awkwardly to the floor resulting Garbajosa suffering a gruesome broken leg. It was truly awful and remains the worst injury I have seen in person in my 20-plus years working in the NBA.

But as Garbajosa lay there screaming in pain with his leg mangled, it was Calderon who ran out onto the floor and all but sat on Garbajosa’s chest to prevent him from seeing the horrific leg injury and to simply comfort his teammate, his friend and his fellow countryman from Spain. It was an incredible moment.

Q: With Patrick McCaw out for at least four weeks, who do you think Nick Nurse should turn to as that No. 8 guy in his rotation?

I think we’re starting to see Nick Nurse’s rotation becoming a little bit clearer. There’s no denying that Serge Ibaka and Norm Powell are mainstays, but while many of us were assuming that Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson were going to be regulars, that hasn’t been the case.

Two rookies have vaulted up the charts in Terence Davis and Matt Thomas, plus we’re starting to see some regular calls to the bench for Chris Boucher, who isn’t playing heavy minutes but at least getting some burn.

Those five mentioned above would appear to be your second unit right now. The issue, however, is that none of those players are point guards. Powell is capable of playing the one for short stints if need be as he has done so in the past, and nurse has even hinted at using Pascal Siakam as a point forward from time to time. But if we’re talking strictly about the second-unit guys and looking beyond Powell, I think that Davis has a better opportunity to eat up some of those minutes that McCaw might have received.

Davis is quick, athletic and has proven that he can defend as well. It has yet to be seen what kind of playmaker he is, though. I also hope that there still continues to be some minutes for Thomas. While I don’t see him as a playmaker, he certainly can shoot the ball and I’ve been impressed with the fact that he’s generally been able to guard his man, or at least stay in front of his man and hasn’t looked lost defensively. If that keeps up he will certainly find ways to stay on the floor because of his shooting prowess.

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