The Toronto Raptors Worst Season: 1998

The Toronto Raptors suffered a season of hilarious badness in their third year in existence.

And no, they didn’t draft a guy named Hilarious Badness. Although that would be a great name if Key and Peele ever do a revival of their East-West College Bowl sketch.

The badness in question has everything you love in a bad season. Massive losing streaks. Net Ratings that would be the worst in the league in any year except the one you’re discussing. A great reward in the next year’s draft. Coaches who saw their careers derailed.

So let’s not waste any time. While Antawn Jamison and Vince Carter toil away at North Carolina for their draft auditions, we’ll head north to a cavalcade of failure.

The On-Court Record

The Raptors moved to 1-2 on the season when they clobbered the Golden State Warriors 104-86 on November 4.

They then lost their next 17 games, and the race was on to compete for the right to draft from a rich haul of lottery picks.

And by “rich haul of lottery picks”, that’s mostly an excuse for me to point at the Clippers and laugh at them for taking Michael Olowokandi first overall in the ’98 draft.

OK, fine, the draft also included Carter, Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce, and surprisingly good second-rounder Rashard Lewis (90.9 WS and 33.1 VORP in his 16-year career).

Anyway, you can’t really stake your claim for a good draft pick unless you stink. That’s where our second laughable stretch comes in.

Toronto finished the season by going 3-23. The three wins were by a total of seven points. Most of the losses were by more than that.

That’s a combined 4-42 in over half the season to start and end things. Going a relatively successful 12-24 in between to finish 16-66 looks like a Finals run by comparison.

As for Net Rating, Toronto’s minus-9.8 was third-worst in the league. This was, after all, the year that gave us Denver’s 12-70 stinkfest along with a Warriors team (one Toronto beat twice!) that went 19-63. Those two squads posted Net Ratings of minus-13.1 (!) and minus-9.9 respectively.

Six different teams won 20 games or fewer in 1998. Meanwhile, four teams (the Lakers, Supersonics, Bulls, and Jazz) won at least 60. To say competitive balance was…questionable…is putting it mildly.

The Featured Players

Only six players played 60 games or more for the ’98 Raptors. Injuries meant that 15 different guys started at least one game.

Doug Christie led the team in Win Shares with 4.0. Dee Brown, at 2.1 WS and .110 WS/48, led the team in that latter category in 31 games and 908 minutes.

Marcus Camby posted as bad a season by a center as the league’s ever seen, notching just .022 WS/48, a stat normally weighted toward big men.

On the bright side, 18-year-old rookie Tracy McGrady managed .081 WS/48 in his 1,179 minutes on the floor.

Zan Tabak posted negative WS, at minus-0.2, and posted an astonishing minus-6.3 Box Plus-Minus. Tabak was something of a legend in Europe, having played professionally in his native Croatia as young as age 15. Unfortunately, he was no Luka Doncic as former-Yugoslav players go in the NBA. He wasn’t even Boban Marjanovic.

But someone had to pave the way…too bad that someone wasn’t Tabak. It was more the lot in life of Vlade Divac and the late Drazen Petrovic to light the way for Balkan NBA stars.

Point is, everyone on this team was either too young or too not good to contribute meaningfully.

The Coach

Darrell Walker, who’d coached Toronto to 30 wins the year before, regressed so badly that he was fired with an 11-38 mark. Butch Carter took over as interim coach, went 5-28, and managed to put Toronto in the playoffs for the first time just two years later in 2000.

Incredibly, Carter hasn’t coached in the NBA since, despite being 41 years old in that 2000 campaign. Carter’s in the auto parts business these days according to Wikipedia. It’s not how you’d expect this sort of story to end, but life is weird.

The Aftermath

Toronto Raptors legend Vince Carter giving Frederic Weis the business.

Well, besides Butch Carter coaching Toronto to the franchise’s first playoff appearance two years after this mess? Another Carter, Vince, came over in a draft day trade from Golden State in 1998 and incredibly became the very last active NBA player older than I am. Carter has about six months on me. When he retired in 2020, the “no, please don’t go!” from my desk was palpable.

As for the Raptors franchise, they will forever be known for the world’s most perfect full circle.

In 2001, Toronto fell to Philadelphia in the second round as Carter’s would-be buzzer beater in Game 7 missed.

In 2019, Toronto beat Philadelphia in the second round as, in Game 7, Kawhi Leonard bounced the ball four times off the rim before sinking one of the greatest shots in NBA playoff history.

And Toronto got Carter in the first place all thanks to the worst season the franchise has ever suffered.

Life is weird. But it’s delightfully so sometimes.

NEXT: Utah Jazz. Going to try and get this one out later tonight, because my job has eaten my life. As such, I’m one piece behind and the season starts tomorrow.

Oh well, it’s not like I never missed deadlines when I did this full-time. Thanks for bearing with me.

And as always, stay tuned and thanks for reading!