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Raptors get just the right dose of success

Toronto basketball crowds have become rabid and key players, from left, DeMar DeRozan, Jonas Valanciunas, Terrence Ross, Amir Johnson, Greivis Vasquez, all sort of addressed the issue of whether Kyle Lowry, right will be back at Monday’s news conference. He will.

John E. Sokolowski/USA Today Sports

This was – in the best possible sense – a carnival of lies.

One by one, the Raptors were marched into their exit news conference to talk about themselves (i.e. talk about the impending free agency of Kyle Lowry).

One by one, they told the porky pie that best suits their teammate's negotiating position.

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Jonas Valanciunas: "I can't tell him to re-sign a contract if he doesn't want to."

Patrick Patterson: "It all depends on him."

Greivis Vasquez: "I can't really answer that question."

Terrence Ross: "I really hope he comes back."

In order, lie, lie, lie and … he probably has no idea.

It was left to DeMar DeRozan to play the role of George Washington. He didn't give anything specific away, but his body language and tone left no doubt that Lowry has already assured key teammates he plans to return.

Will it be hard to watch Lowry go through this process?

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DeRozan, curling up with mirth and suddenly unable to look anyone in the eye: "No, no …" – the reaction was so childish and exaggerated, it provoked surprised laughter in the room – "… it won't."

It seems like you're suggesting this decision is already made.

DeRozan, wide-bodied and mock-affronted: "I didn't say that!"

DeRozan also said that "everything'll work itself out," on a deal for coach Dwane Casey. He was prescient in that regard. The team will announce Tuesday morning that Casey is set to return on a new three-year deal.

Lowry himself was playing it cool on the larger question, but when listing off the factors that will go into his decision – winning, family, culture, teammates – expressed complete satisfaction with each one.

"It's still a business," Lowry said. "But I'm very happy … I am happy … Without a doubt, I'm very happy."

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He's happy. And he's not leaving.

This was all before Vasquez came out and launched into an achingly impassioned love note to a city he's lived in for five months. He described the prospect of leaving as "heartbreaking."

"Toronto changed me," the Venezuelan said. He was in real danger of weeping.

If the Raptors can't find the resources, maybe Tourism Toronto can pony up some cash. That was my greatest Heritage Minute since the kid in the ad tells her new French parents she has to keep her Irish name (

It seems odd to say this right now, but this – right now – might fairly be called the highest point in the Raptors' history. This is even supra-Vince. Also, we should mention Vince might be returning.

The team is in the ascendance. Their immediate future is close to being secured. There is accord up and down the organization. Patterson said that everyone on the team understands their place and puts the collective first.

Have you ever been on a team like that before?

"No," Patterson, a teller of hard truths, said flatly.

The Toronto Raptors – the socialist's favourite.

Game 7 hurt, but in the end it will have served a greater good.

Toronto lost by a single point to a deeper, more talented team. That's a perfect ending from the perspective of the future. That sort of ending whets appetites – of both players and fans.

If they'd moved on to the second round against the Miami Heat, sure, it would've been buoyant around the country for a few days. Then the beating begins. That's a five-game series, at best. More likely, it's a four-game hiding. That's eight days of eating glass. This would've ended in temporal ash.

It would also have created an expectation – that the Raptors are in the midst of their peak moment. Losing the way they did – manfully, but at the first hurdle – gives them space to breathe going forward. It's an affirmation that this is still a work in progress (coach Dwane Casey's favourite formulation).

What fans crave are incremental steps toward the end goal. They tire quickly of stasis. If you win, you must continue not only winning, but also winning to a higher and higher standard.

The illustrative example here is the Blue Jays. Since we're talking about Toronto, every exploration of success is an archeological dig.

Over eight years – from 1985 to '92 – the Jays steadily built their résumé. Every failure only increased the volume.

By the time they finally broke through, Canada was panting for a title. Their first World Series was an epochal emotional release. I spent the final minutes of the winning game on my front porch. It was too important a moment to actually watch.

A year later, we expected them to do it again. The repeat in '93 was great, but less sweet. I was in front of the TV for that one. Within a year, they were shorn of their talent and already tipped toward a decade-long decline.

Winning is a drug. Once you've tried it, you need larger doses.

The Raptors are now perfectly placed to begin that slow, profitable climb into Canada's imagination.

They will keep Lowry and Casey. They probably need to get rid of Amir Johnson, John Salmons and – sob – even Vasquez. There are small tweaks that can make this roster markedly better (and here's where we begin day-dreaming of a player like Chicago's Taj Gibson).

Slow and steady. Whatever they tell you, that's what people really want.

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