Resilience Amid Turmoil: Inside the Toronto Raptors’ 2023-24 Season

Most fans would describe the Toronto Raptors’ 2023-24 season as tumultuous as trades, injuries and other factors led to – among other things – a 15-game losing streak.

But for head coach Darko Rajakovic, the lasting memory of this lost season is how the team stuck together.

“We faced very difficult circumstances and it was easy to point fingers. We stayed together through it all, Rajakovic said Tuesday during his end-of-season press conference. We realize that the only way to move forward is to be on the same page and stand together. »

Rajakovic was presented to the media as the new head coach on June 13.

At that time, team president Masai Ujiri emphasized that his mandate was to change the culture at the Raptors.

More than the culture has changed. On December 30, Toronto traded OG Anunoby and Precious Achiuwa to the Knicks for Mississauga’s RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley.

On January 17, we sent star player Pascal Siakam to the Pacers, before obtaining Kelly Olynyk from Kamloops and Ochai Agbaji in a pact with the Jazz on February 8.

The injury bug hit in March with star player Scottie Barnes and center Jakob Poeltl going down for the remainder of the season.

More injuries chipped away at depth, and then Barrett and Quickley were sidelined for extended periods due to the deaths of loved ones.

This contributed to the 15-game losing streak.

Toronto has lost 19 of its last 21 games, finishing with a record of 25-57.

A difficult end to the campaign for Rajakovic, in his first season as head coach in the NBA.

“If you asked me 12 months ago, during my job interview, I probably couldn’t have predicted everything that was going to happen,” Rajakovic said, smiling. There were a lot of challenges and things we couldn’t control. »

“At the same time, it was a great opportunity to learn, to see how people react. We saw our resilience and how everyone came together. »

His players said it was the coach’s positive character that kept the team together.

Barnes said Rajakovic was the first person to call him after surgery on March 4 for a broken hand.

“He’s there for me. He’s going to help me no matter what,” Barnes said. He always talks to me about how I can learn, how I can improve. He loves me and he cares for us. »

Barrett said Rajakovic began building a relationship with him as soon as he joined the Raptors.

“I became very close to Darko. He’s a coach with whom we can talk about everything, said Barrett, whose younger brother Nathan died on March 12. »

“A lot of our conversations sometimes have nothing to do with basketball. I appreciate it much more than just basketball. »

The Raptors only had seven games where their core of Barnes, Poeltl, Barrett and Quickley were able to play together. When they were all together on the pitch, they shined in Rajakovic’s offensive schemes.

“I see a lot of potential and opportunities for growth,” Rajakovic said. At the same time, I don’t want to take a small sample and say that’s it and take it for granted. There are definitely things we can do better, offensively and defensively. »

2024-04-17 01:14:00
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