In 2006, Jerry Colangelo was appointed the managing director of the men’s USA Senior National Team. Colangelo was tasked with changing the culture of Team USA. For too long the United States had haphazardly constructed its teams for international competition. Things came to a head in 2004 when Team USA failed to win the gold medal for the first time since 1988.
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh were all members of the 2006 USA World Championship team. The trio was reunited in 2008 for the Beijing Olympics.
Part of Colangelo’s plan was to build a lasting and stable infrastructure, with a team that stays together for more than just one tournament. James, Wade, and Bosh were part of the group responsible for restoring the legacy of Team USA. It was also during these international competitions that they discussed the possibility of playing together in the NBA.
In the summer of 2010, James, Wade and Bosh shocked the basketball world with “The Decision”. James and Bosh decided to leave their respective teams and join Wade in Miami with the Heat. The Heatles would go on to make four consecutive trips to the NBA Finals, winning two championships.
However, this wasn’t the last time that Team USA brought some of the league’s biggest stars together. Chris Paul and James Harden decided to team up after playing together internationally. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving also bonded while wearing red, white and blue.
Canada Basketball announced a group of 29 players who were invited to participate in training camp ahead of the FIBA World Cup. The group is full of NBA talent. Jamal Murray and RJ Barrett are the headliners, but also present, among others, are national team stalwarts Cory Joseph and Kelly Olynyk. Shams Charania of The Athletic reported that Tristan Thompson would not participate, even though his name was included in the original list.
Canada is beginning to emerge as a basketball powerhouse. They trail only the United States in terms of its representation in the NBA. Of those selected to participate in next month’s training camp, 17 are currently on NBA rosters.
Canada Basketball is attempting to replicate the success that Team USA has experienced recently. Instead of just selecting 12 NBA players, it is about building for long-term success. Rowan Barrett, the general manager of the Canadian men’s national team, has done an excellent job of building the program and focusing on continuity.
Almost all of the players invited to training camp have represented Canada on the international stage. Most recently Barrett, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Nickeil Alexander-Walker led Canada to a gold medal at the FIBA U19 Basketball World Championship. The country’s first-ever world basketball title.
The World Cup is the main qualifying tournament for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Success for the national team could also bring long-term benefits to the Toronto Raptors.
Nick Nurse was recently named as head coach of the Canadian Senior National Team. After helping guide the Raptors to their first-ever NBA Championship, Nurse will try to get Canada back to the Olympics for the first time since 2000.
Nurse has an extensive resume. He has coached at all levels, including in Europe, in the British Basketball League. As such, Nurse is familiar with the rule differences in FIBA versus the NBA.
Nurse will also get the opportunity to build relationships with a number of up-and-coming NBA players. Most of these players grew up fans of the Raptors. More than half of the 29 players invited are from the GTA.
However, what the NBA learned during Toronto’s championship run is that the Raptors are truly Canada’s team. Raptors fans are scattered throughout North America and routinely travel to watch the team play. The Raptors have traveled to Vancouver and Halifax to conduct training came. This upcoming season, the Raptors announced they will hold training camp in Quebec City.
Despite being Canada’s team, the Raptors have historically been light on homegrown talent. The only Canadian currently on the roster is backup big man Chris Boucher. Besides Boucher, Joseph, Anthony Bennett, and Jamaal Magloire are the only other Canadians to have suited up for the Toronto Raptors.
If Team Canada experiences success on the international level, it could have the same effect that Team USA has had on American players. Why not team up, return home and play for Canada’s team?
Today’s NBA stars have taken control of their careers like never before. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George made the decision to return to their roots and play close to home in Southern California. Their decision to team up with the Los Angeles Clippers turns the team into immediate title contenders. The same goes for Irving, a West Orange native, who left a contender in the Boston Celtics to play closer to home and join the Brooklyn Nets.
Most of Canada’s best and brightest are just starting their professional careers. Murray, Barrett, and Gilgeous-Alexander are all 22 and younger. By the time they hit free agency, they will just be entering their prime. A team featuring the trio could be the foundation for a championship core.
NBA teams are always planning for the future. A general manager must keep one eye on the present while being mindful of the long-term success of the organization. For the Toronto Raptors, continuing to foster a connection with Canadian players cannot be seen as anything but a positive.
The amount of Canadian talent currently in the NCAA has never been higher. Last year there was a record 133 Canadians playing Division-1 basketball.
A.J. Lawson and Karim Mane both played for Canada in this month’s U19 World Cup. Lawson is entering his sophomore season with South Carolina. Meanwhile, Mane is drawing interest from a number of the top programs, including Kentucky. Both are projected to be first-round picks in next year’s draft.
The Toronto Raptors have often been viewed as an NBA outpost, incapable of attracting star players. It appeared that the narrative was changing. But Leonard’s decision to be the first Finals MVP to leave a championship team may set the team back from a public relations perspective.
Despite Leonard’s decision to spurn the Raptors, things could change in the near future. Those willing to give up their offseason to play for their country are exactly the type of players who would be proud to represent the only franchise located outside of the United States.
The Toronto Raptors can use a negative perception to their advantage. Most Canadians enter the NBA with a chip on their shoulder. What better way to prove the basketball world wrong then to join forces and play for Canada’s team?