This is the Greatest Toronto Raptors Team of All Time

Apr 1, 2016; Memphis, TN, USA; Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) and guard DeMar DeRozan (10) look on during the second half against the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum. Toronto beat Memphis 99-95. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 1, 2016; Memphis, TN, USA; Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) and guard DeMar DeRozan (10) look on during the second half against the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum. Toronto beat Memphis 99-95. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports /

A franchise record 56 regular season wins and the deepest playoff run in franchise history shows that this is the greatest Toronto Raptors team of all-time.

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of days, the Toronto Raptors have advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history.

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The Raptors defeated Miami in a seven game series that had fans running on a roller coaster of emotions. Whiteside went down, then Valanciunas, and then the series seemed firmly in grasp after Game 5, but looked primed for failure at the end of game 6. But like the Raptors have done this entire year, they have answered the call when it mattered most.

The Raptors were a franchise born 21 years ago and there have been ups and many downs. The Raptors used to be a team that was thought of as an extra part of the league, the one time you had to pack your passport to play an away game. For the most part, the franchise wasn’t taken seriously but there were bright spots in some seasons.

In their first year of existence the Raptors were terrible. But they were good enough for one night to defeat the Jordan Bulls when they were on their way to the mythical 72-10 record that was only toppled this season. A small up in a season of downs.

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The Raptors muddled in the dark for multiple years until 1997 where Tracy McGrady was drafted, a young athletic swingman that was capable of scoring and defending when he needed to.

Then the fateful 1998 draft, where a person best described as half-man, half-amazing was drafted by the Raptors with the fifth pick. Finally the Raptors made a jump to relevancy.

The years spent with Vince Carer were amazing. The dunks were spectacular, there hadn’t been a player that could jump or dunk like him since Michael Jordan. During the 1999-2000 season Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady seemed like the beginning of something magical. Vince Carter entered the Slam Dunk competition and was otherworldly, the cookie jar dunk and the reverse 360 windmill dunk were amazing the first time and continue to be amazing when seen on YouTube. Other players were in awe not only of the dunks but of Vince Carter himself. Air Canada was putting the league on notice that Toronto is on the rise.

Tracy and Vince were not only cousins, they were an aerial showcase that the NBA had not seen before. Both players were capable of jumping like they had trampolines underneath their feet. Vince Carter was a ahead of his time as a shooter and he had the backup of his own cousin to fill the spots that he couldn’t.

The Raptors finally tasted the playoffs in 2000 but got swept by the New York Knicks in Patrick Ewing‘s last year. The cousins were only in the league for a handful of years, so it was easy as a fan to feel if the team stayed together that the Raptors could easily be back in the playoffs and compete in deeper runs.

But during the 2000 offseason McGrady left the team, not wanting to remain in the shadow of his cousin. Tracy leaving left Toronto fans in dismay, the team was just budding and one of the flower heads decided to pack up and move away.

Regardless, Vince took on a minutes increase and was a better player because of it. His points per game had peaked at 27.6 points per game and had increased in every statistical way possible. The Raptors were led by Vince Carter, Alvin Williams, Antonio Davis and Charles Oakley. Vince was the offense and everyone simply fed off of him to get their points, or openings were found in transition. It worked until Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals against Allen Iverson and his 76ers.

Every Raptors’ fan knows the sequence that stood between VC’s Raptors, and no matter how many times fans re-watch it, there is no way to change the result. That Vince Carter fadeaway jumpshot had become the legacy for the Toronto Raptors franchise. It symbolizes what could have been but wasn’t. With that shot the Raptors would have moved forwards to the Eastern Conference Finals after knocking off the No. 1 seeded 76ers, who advanced to the finals that year.

That missed shot was followed by seasons of mediocrity that eventually led the Raptors down a dark path. Vince Carter eventually stopped trying in subsequent years, he even admitted it himself and the Chris Bosh teams never realized their potential.

The Raptors became a team that was perennially injured or just plain bad, the franchise had become a joke around the league again, it was a tour stop akin to what London is now for the NBA in the preseason.

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Vince was eventually traded in the 2004-2005 season to the New Jersey Nets and the era of Vince Carter ended. Vince was booed for years after that trade, the Toronto fan base can be quite mercurial.

Vince Carter, a name that once brought awe and inspiration, was now rank with disappointment and disdain. Respect is hard to gain with Toronto fans, but once its lost, it stays lost for a very long time and Vince learned that the hard way.

Regardless that 2000-2001 team was the greatest team in franchise history. No team was capable of making it that far into the playoffs — within one shot of the next round — since Vince Carter did in the 2000-2001 season. That was until this year.

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This year Kyle Lowry had come back better than ever due to what he himself would call an embarrassing four game sweep by the Washington Wizards last season. DeMar DeRozan has taken another step forward as an all-star player. He has increased expertise handling the ball and shooting his best percentage from three-point range in his entire career.

DeMarreCarroll was brought in to finally fix the hole at the three spot for the Raptors, a counter to the previous years of being exposed by hybrid wings that were too either too tall or too hefty for DeRozan to guard. Valanciunas continued to make strides towards being a capable pick-and-roll defender, as well as being a very considerable post threat. His development eventually earned the trust of coach Casey, too.

More defensive personnel was brought in by Massai Ujiri; Carroll, Cory Joseph, Bismack Biyombo and Norman Powell were all additions to suit coach Dwayne Casey’s defensc first mentality. The team now feels like a cohesive unit when seen on the floor, not just a bunch of individual parts that were slapped together to form a team.

The Raptors flourished and it was evident that this year was a year of massive growth for the team.

The Raptors broke franchise records left and right; most rebounds in a game accomplished by Bismack Biyombo with 25, most regular season wins, 56, most home wins, 32, and most road wins, 24.

DeMar DeRozan surpassed Vince Carter for second place in most points scored for the franchise, while both Lowry and DeRozan surpassed VC for most playoff points scored, settling them into first and second place on that list.

The Raptors won their first series of the playoffs against the Pacers, albeit in seven games, but they finally got that first round monkey off their back. Now with a series victory against the Heat, and a place in the Eastern Conference Finals to play LeBron and the Cleveland Cavaliers, its hard to say this team isn’t the greatest Raptors team in franchise history.

Everything about the Raptors this year seems different. Without question there is more confidence. Despite their struggles to score, and analysts counting them out, we expected them to make it out of the first round. This year the team has confidently placed the mistakes and transgressions of the franchise behind them, there was no Game 7 collapse this year, nobody lost their poise when the games were coming down to the wire.

The Raptors were the better team on paper against the Heat, but every media affiliate was convinced the Heat would win due to intangibles of ‘knowing how to win’ and having ‘experienced vets’. Even with those factors, they overlooked the shear skill and cohesiveness of the Raptors, which can’t be discounted.

The Raptors have over come the odds and have surpassed every expectation this year and it’s not a fluke, they deserve to be here. The team has been built better than ever before; there are multiple options at every position, every player is skilled and brings something to the table that can be leveraged for wins. The Raptors proved it in the regular season and have proved it again in the postseason.

Next: Why Raptors are Still Effective with Biyombo Starting

This is not a joke, Toronto is legit.

They’re one of the best teams in the league. 56 wins doesn’t happen by accident and postseason success definitely doesn’t either. This is, without a doubt, the greatest Toronto Raptors of all time.