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Ball Don't Lie

The Toronto Raptors and Drake enter into a business partnership, as Toronto’s rebuilding continues

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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Drake poses with an unidentified Toronto Raptor (Getty Images)

Apparently, now that the ‘Breaking Bad’ finale has been broadcast, there is nothing cooler in the Western world than the musician known as “Drake.” The Toronto-born and bred rapper and singer recently released a new album to much commercial and critical acclaim, no doubt helped by the dozens of copies that Toronto Raptors big man Amir Johnson purchased in order on the day it was released. And though Drake recently made the cable TV rounds to talk up all things sports-y in support of that LP, his top sporting love remains the Toronto Raptors.

Those middling, expectedly overlooked, Toronto Raptors.

The Raptor franchise, mindful of the malaise, is looking to put a stop to this. Not content with an All-Star Game in its future, the team has decided to join forces with Drake to form some sort of partnership. We’re not sure what the particulars are, but Drake is now a Toronto Raptors ambassador. The cover boy to go to when you want to talk about DeMar DeRozan’s iffy True Shooting Percentage, apparently. From the Toronto Star:

On Monday, MLSE will announce the first of several initiatives with hip-hop impresario Drake, which will see him acting as a host, business partner and consultant for the team.

[…]

Unlike a lot of the one per centers at the ACC, the pair spends the basketball game watching basketball, rather than their cellphones.

That loyalty — and also his immense following inside the game — has been noted.

The nuptials will start Monday with an announcement that Drake is partnering with the Raptors as they accept the 2016 NBA All-Star Game.

Of course, this means absolutely nothing; but it does lend credibility to the idea that the new personnel chief in Toronto (former Creative Artists Agency head Tim Leiweke) wants Canada’s only NBA franchise to not be relegated to a minor league tier. Toronto ranks amongst the New York/Chicago/Los Angeles triptych as one of North America’s more impressive cities, and yet the Raptors routinely rank alongside Milwaukee, Sacramento, and Salt Lake City as one of the NBA’s more anonymous franchises.

The reasons for this, sportswriter chatter aside, have more to do with poor planning and front office execution than the idea that free agent stars don’t want to hook up with the Raptors. Not when the two biggest prizes of the 2001 free agent class (Vince Carter and, don’t laugh, Antonio Davis) and one of the biggest stars of the 2009 free agent class (again, don’t laugh: Hedo Turkoglu) decided to sign with the Raptors. The franchise, if it looks like a team on the make, will be able to recruit big names.

The issue is that the biggest name Toronto recruited since Vince Carter’s time with the team – former general manager Bryan Colangelo – did a miserable job with the Raps. A miserable job even considering the significant gifts he was afforded, like a top overall draft pick, and significant cap space three different times during his reign.

Colangelo is gone, after much (embarrassing, to this outsider) hand-wringing by new Raptor CEO Tim Leiweke, but the team still has a ton of cleanup to work through until it can start to attempt to attract free agents. This year’s model is hoping to sneak into the playoffs, a modest goal, and yet the team still boasts a massive payroll that is one contract away from hitting the NBA’s luxury tax. New GM Masai Ujiri has years’ worth of work to do to start over, as none of this will be fixed within a season. Drake ain’t going to bring the stars on his own.

The National Post’s Bruce Arthur, as he usually does, understands this:

And that’s why despite the presence of Drake, Rob Ford, NBA commissioner-in-waiting Adam Silver and Leiweke at the press conference, the most important figure remains Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri, who has spent the summer quietly sitting on the competitive fence, the Andrea Bargnani trade notwithstanding. Ujiri is the guy who has to marshal his resources and decide how to remake this middling-at-best team. Having Drake as a public face and a back-channel operator could be helpful. Renaming the team the Huskies by 2015, which was discussed but which seems to be on the back burner, wouldn’t hurt. But unless Ujiri assembles talent that fits and produces, who cares whether Drake is selling a team with one best-of-five playoff win in 20 years?

Drake is a unit-shifting, major league talent. Toronto is a major league town. The Raptors should be a major league franchise.

It’s the leadership, entering its 19th year, that has failed the team and its fans. Good thing Drake has a few million of those already on hand.

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