Since the mid-December trade that gifted the Toronto Raptors with a bench, the team has been preaching a 15-deep mentality. More than that, they speak about being a family. This sort of talk isn’t out of the ordinary for professional sports teams, but when truthful, the positive effect that crosses over onto the court is undeniable.
When there’s total trust in a locker room, the common goal they are reaching for suddenly appears closer.
“I think these guys have been through so much together,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said. “I think all of the guys that all have young kids that are kind of growing up together. That’s a bond. Everybody doubting us all over the league, not giving us our due respect — and that is being a young team — helps guys bond together. We’re all fighting for something.”
Coming to Toronto from Sacramento in the dead of winter, Patrick Patterson wasn’t sure what to expect from his new team.
“I had no idea what I was coming to,” Patterson said after a recent practice. “I actually had to read up on what was going on and I find out the fans and certain people are talking about how they wanted the team to tank and there was no belief in this team as far as making it to the playoffs. Just so much criticism and negativity but when I came into the locker room I saw none of that. I saw a family, I saw a group of brothers who were just concentrating on basketball and getting better.”
A Band Of Brothers
Bonding over a west coast road trip that included victories in Oklahoma City and Dallas, Patterson said he hasn’t ever clicked with a group as quickly as he did with his Raptors teammates.
“Not where everything is so perfect,” Patterson said. “Everything is so right. No one’s having problems. Whether its from the coaching staff to the players. …We joke around on the court, we joke around off the court. We hang out with one another, we treat one another like families. All of our families love one another, whether it’s wives, children, spouses, family members, mother and father, it doesn’t matter. We all get along.”
After the Raptors evened their series with the Brooklyn Nets thanks to a 100-95 victory on Tuesday night, Amir Johnson and DeMar DeRozan were selected to speak at the podium. As they explained why the Game 2 win, and really the entire season, has meant so much to them, there was an example of the teams’ closeness unfolding just down the hallway.
Lowry, who posted 14 points, nine rebounds and six dimes, was dishing out one final assist. Talking to family members and friends that filled the hallway outside of the Raptors locker room, he held DeRozan’s nearly-one-year-old daughter in his arms while her father spoke to the assembled media about what the team felt it had to prove to the league.
It was a simple scene that gave a glimpse into how close Lowry and DeRozan have become over the past two seasons.
“It’s grown a lot,” DeRozan said of their relationship. “Honestly, we talk every single day. We figure out ways to make each other better, make this team better. We constantly talk. I always come to his house, freeload his refrigerator, whatever his chef is cooking. Go over there, eat, take my daughter over there, play with his son. They play cars, race cars, whatever, do little kid things. Just that bonding has grown with that.”
Like Patterson, Lowry said the close-knit feel of this team is unlike anything he has experienced in the NBA.
“Me and DeMar were talking about it last night,” Lowry said. “The chemistry, it’s unbelievable. I can pick up my phone and call any one of my teammates and have a conversation. Serious, jokingly, it’s just cool. It’s just great to have a group of guys who just really get along.
“We really are like a band of brothers. It’s cool. It’s like, we’re able to hold each other accountable and we know it’s not out of spite, it’s because we want to be better. It’s constructive criticism…it’s good when everybody on the team has a voice. And it’s not just one dominant voice, it’s 15 voices that make one.”
That family feel isn’t confined to just the players, either. Raptors head coach Dwane Casey often stops short of entering the press conference room to speak with reporters after games to greet his team’s family members. As he says hello to a wife or fiancee, or crouches down to a player’s son or daughter, it’s easy to see that Casey’s care for his guys extends beyond what they can do on the basketball court.
“Casey’s definitely a player’s coach,” DeRozan said after a recent practice. “Someone you can go talk to, how you feel about in-game situations, or talk to him about personal situations.”
Having won a championship as an assistant coach in Dallas, Casey understands the importance of camaraderie. He also knows how much of a blessing it is to find it through a mid-season trade.
“Chemistry is a funny thing,” Casey said. “You know it when you got it, but it’s so easy to lose. It’s hard to put your finger on it. I think we have good chemistry, the right pieces, the right guys, the right personalities in the locker room.”
For Lowry, it’s been a season of growth and maturation. Along the way, he has proven himself worthy of All-Star status even if he was overlooked this past February. In the process, he has endeared himself to each and every one of his Raptors teammates.
“I love my team,” Lowry said. “I love my team, I’ll tell anybody that first-hand. I really appreciate being every day with these guys. Every day I look forward to talking to them and joking with them and having fun with them because it’s rare that you get a team like this. So you take advantage of the full opportunity that you have. I’m taking advantage of the opportunity that I have this year with these guys.”