Toronto Raptors believe strong bond key to record-breaking season
'Energy around locker room was great'
Argentina, Brazil, Canada, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lithuania and the U.S. The Raptors may call many places home but say they shared a special bond this season.
The Toronto players scattered Saturday in the wake of their season-ending 113-87 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals. But not before singing the praises of the Raptors' brotherhood.
"It's an amazing camaraderie that we have," all-star guard DeMar DeRozan said. "And it's hard to find in this league."
The ties that bind extend to their families, he added. The loud, loyal fan support behind the team also helped strengthen the bond.
Centre Bismack Biyombo, who like DeRozan will be able to listen to other teams' offers this summer, said the players enjoyed each other's company.
"It's just the locker room, the energy around the locker room was great," said Biyombo, who comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo. "After practices, people would stay around the locker-room just to have conversations. Sometimes the conversation might sound stupid but we would still have fun with it and enjoy it.
"People would come early before practice and just sit around the locker-room, and then on the road ... This is the most fun I've had since I've been in the league."
Coach Dwane Casey also saw something special in this year's roster, saying players accepted their roles and bought into the program.
"I really feel like we had a special locker-room and I told the team (Friday) night I've been coaching since 1979 and this is one of the special connected teams that we've had," he said.
Casey called Biyombo and other newcomers this year like Luis Scola, DeMarre Carroll and Cory Joseph pro's pros. "All those guys fit," he said.
Winning a franchise-record 56 times and making it to the final four obviously helped the mood of the team. But player after player gave the Raptors' chemistry a thumbs-up.
"Everybody, from 1 to 15 [on the roster], we're all close, we all did things together," said Joseph, who came over from San Antonio to play in his hometown. "Off the court we learned about each other's culture. I think we had the most international players in the league this year. We learned about each other's families.
"We just built, we were building on a lot of things that weren't basketball. So I think that brought us closer together as a group and it showed on the court as well. So I had a great time. It was probably more fun off the court than it was on."
All-star guard Kyle Lowry smiled at his team's brotherhood.
"We've got some comical guys in there," Lowry said of the locker-room.
"Honestly the mix of cultures and countries and backgrounds and languages .... it just brings us together," he added.
Languages spoken in the Raptors room included English, French, Lingala, Lithuanian, Portuguese, Spanish and Swahili.
Despite that, the players were on the same page.
"I think we finally found an identity for ourselves. We're a physical grimy defensive team," said Carroll. "That's the type of team that you want to be and that's the type that we are.
"When you think of the Raptors, you think it's going to be a physical night. They're going to get up in you. They're going to come block shots. They're going to take charges. They're going to do the little things that win the game. That's the type of identity you want."
There are rules to be followed as a Raptor, some small but still valuable in the search for professionalism, according to Casey. For example, players have to have their shirts tucked in at practice, their shoes done up when meetings start. If a cellphone rings during a meeting, it's a fine.
"I'm not a big rule guy but we do have specific rules and things that we do that are expected once you become a Toronto Raptor," said Casey.
"They're small rules but they're big rules," he added.