Systemic Solutions for Toronto Raptors – Part 2

Previously, we analyzed the Toronto Raptors as an organization, focusing on the causes of its perpetual mediocrity. We mentioned that there is a systemic problem that’s been bothering the Raptors since its inception. Our first analysis focused on the Shifting the Burden archetype. Today, we are going to focus on another Systems Archetype: Escalation.

A rising tide lifts all boats.

J.F. Kennedy

While Shifting the Burden is the systems archetype arresting the development of Toronto Raptors, it is not the only demon, with which the organization is dealing. The Raptors have a secondary systemic problem, which it is called the Escalation.

According to William Braun, the Escalation archetype occurs when one party’s actions are perceived by another party to be a threat, and the second party responds similarly, further increasing the danger. Since the actions of both parties are self-reinforcing and self-motivating, mutually threatening behaviours, grow exponentially over time. The best-known example of the Escalation archetype is the nuclear arms race between the US and the USSR, which took place during the Cold War. Every time the USSR built a nuclear warhead, the US made two, which forced the USSR to produce more.

If it gets out of control, the Escalation archetype could lead to doomsday. That said, escalation is not necessarily a bad thing. That archetype could be tapped into to increase healthy fight. As long as it is kept under control, such systemic behaviour would end up promoting progress.

The pattern of the Escalation archetype is relatively straightforward and predictable. As discussed in the Cold War example, the actions (and reactions) of each party are similar in nature, though they become increasingly competitive as time goes by.

At the heart of any healthy rivalry, you may spot the fingerprints of the Escalation archetype. The best-known business example of productive escalation is the Coke-Pepsi case. Instead of trying to annihilate each other, those two companies continually raised the bar and ended up dominating the global market. How does this relate to the Raptors?

At the heart of any healthy rivalry, you may spot the fingerprints of the Escalation archetype.

When we look at the narrative of the Toronto Raptors as an organization, we realize that there is no antagonist. There is not a worthy villain. There is no enemy. During its two decades of existence, the Raptors never had a bona fide rival (not a team or a single player.) At present, no other franchise is forcing the Raptors to raise its bar, which is a systemic problem.

We can talk about three types of rivalries: First, there are historical rivalries, which lead to greatness. Take the Lakers vs. the Celtics, for example. When the Celtics assembled its Big Three, it was the Escalation archetype that forced the Lakers to trade for Pau Gasol. A historical rival is something that the Raptors Organization is missing dearly.

Second, there are geographic rivalries like Texas rivalries. Back in the day, when the Grizzlies were located in Vancouver, Toronto Raptors used to have a Canadian rival. Unfortunately, that rivalry ceased to exist prematurely, leaving the Raptors as Canada’s Team by default, not by merit. If -and that’s a big if- the Raptors could create a rallying cry against American teams, then a geographic rivalry might kick in.

Finally, there are in-city rivalries. Boston is a case in point. Attention and passion are limited resources. That’s why every franchise must fight for the support of Bostonians. Whenever the Red Sox or the Bruins up their game, the Celtics feel the pressure to catch up, which is a healthy effect of the Escalation archetype. It is not a stretch to say that any organization operating in a competitive market needs to tap into the Escalation archetype to be successful.

Going back to Toronto Raptors, the franchise is in desperate need of a worthy instigator. Whom could that be? As discussed there are no historical rivals. How about geographical rivalry? No NBA franchise is planning to move to Canada. As a result, there is no room for national competition. The Raptors will stay as Canada’s Team, as long as they remain in Toronto. Consequently, the Toronto Raptors have only one option: Instigating an in-city rivalry.

In an ideal world, the Raptors should fight for the attention and love of Torontonians. Typically, the franchise should feel some pain after having a mediocre run. Preferably the success of other Toronto-based franchises should raise the bar for the Raptors.

However, there are no in-city rivalries, for we do not live in an ideal world. The most apparent instigator could be the Toronto Maple Leafs, another franchise suffering from a mediocre run. Should those two decide to go on an arms race, both of them could rise above mediocrity. However, here is the problem: Both franchises belong to the same ownership group: MLSE.

While owning major franchises creates corporate synergy for MLSE, it kills a potential in-city rivalry, which could lift all boats. That is a major systemic problem with which the Raptors has to deal. They must find an instigator -whether geographic or local- that would keep them up on their toes. Unfortunately, there’s nobody that fits the bill right now -unless the Raptors play into the Canadian vs. US narrative.

They must find an instigator -whether geographic or local- that would keep them up on their toes. Unfortunately, there’s nobody that fits the bill right now -unless the Raptors play into the Canadian vs. US narrative.

Our next article will look at the third system archetype, which contributes to the extended mediocrity of Toronto Raptors: Eroding Goals.

What do you think? Is it beneficial for the Raptors to have an archrival? If so, who could play the role of the antagonist? Fire up your comments.

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11 Replies to “Systemic Solutions for Toronto Raptors – Part 2”

  1. Oh Jesus, somebody just finished a Management 101 book.

    “When we look at the story of Toronto Raptors, we realize that there is no antagonist. There is no villain. During its two decades of existence, the Raptors never had a bona fide rival. Especially right now, there is no team forcing the Raptors to raise its bar, and that’s a systematic problem. ”

    If you think think not having a rival is a “systematic problem”, then you’re out to lunch. I do appreciate that you want to take a unique look at the Raps, but let’s not overcomplicate things.

    There’s one thing that makes or breaks most NBA teams and that’s the draft. The qualifier of ‘most’ is added because of super-rich teams willing to live under repeater penalties of the luxury tax.

    1. Thank you David for taking your time to read and comment on this article.

      I would not want to devalue the importance of drafting right or having the ability to go over the luxury tax. But to me, they are parts of the puzzle. While we have differing ideas on this topic, I genuinely value your feedback.


  2. What is needed is a consistant rival – as of this moment, you can look to current play-off rivals: From one 2013-14 prediction list:
    #4-Detroit #6-New York #7-Atlanta #8-Cleveland #9-Toronto #10-Milwaukee #11-Washington

    New York – While there were heated and tough match-ups with the Knicks at the last half of 2012-13, NY tends to ignore anything that isn’t NY, Boston, or LA
    But if we can occasionally smack them, when they really need a win, there might be a buzz for a time. But they are so locked into the big signings, it’s like you are facing a new team every year.

    Atlanta – A place with a good team but little personality. I almost forgot them. Nothing here

    Cleveland – This is a natural regional rivalry. But in recent years, with LeBron, any chance of that was thrown out the window. The Raptors were consistently bad and not worthy of a rivalry. NBA is much more erratic than other team sports in that a super-star can make and break a team (and a rivalry)

    With Cleveland having done some solid re-building (Kyrie et al) and Toronto having stocked up to be in the same quality class, this could start some rivalry story-lines.

    Milwaukee – So far I’ve seen Toronto and Milwaukee as the Desparation Twins. All negative and I don’t see Milwaukee mattering.

    Washington – Another re-building at nearly the same quality as the Raptors with a likely consistent line-up for the near future. If the Raptors are consistent temselves, the stories could start.

    Detroit – Exactly where on the roller-coaster can we catch these guys? Again, consistency creates rivalries

    For an NBA rivalry to be created from the competition, BOTH teams must be CONSISTENTLY good (not great) and CONSISTENTLY at the same level.

    And stories have to be created – dirty battles, personal dislikes, and thwarting of the “enemy.” Personalities make the best stories and bring things to life. The Bargs’ story was negative and dominant over the last 5 years. And the possible big stories(Turkuglu, O’Neal, the Bosh-fail) have also been negative(some extreme flops.)

    There are many ups-and-downs. Toronto has to search and fi

    1. Excellent analysis. Thanks for sharing.

      I always thought the best potential rival for the City of Toronto is the City of Chicago: Two similar cities, two financial powerhouses, more or less the same size and proximity…

      But as you mentioned, there needs to be a story. You cannot manufacture or engineer a story. It needs to occur naturally. You cannot pick a rival. Rivalry needs to develop organically. Also, the rivalry needs to have an element that is bigger than sports.


  3. Oops have to finish my last thought:

    There are many ups-and-downs. Toronto has to search and find a CONSISTENT level of good play and good results. BC never tried for that; Usiri has a calmer and more consistent attitude – defintely an upgrade.

  4. hmmm, well we moved from the toronto raptors don’t having any NBA instigator to another team within the geographical setting of the raptors, only to find out that the leafs are also owned by the owners of the raptors. To get a instigator we (probably) have to move outside sports. May be entertainment. I stronly think the instigator should be some one who is as rich as the owner of the raptors but dislikes him (kind of).

    Find someone who can intimate the owner to get him challenged.

    1. It is a great idea Ohio. I like how you expanded the conversation.

      But, as far as I know, and I might be completely wrong, there is no other local ownership group or a grassroots organization that demonstrated public interest in the Raptors.

      On the other hand, the potential interest of a non-Toronto based ownership would be alarming in the city. Instead of kick starting the Escalation archetype, it could possibly start blamestorming and defensive behaviour. That’d be my first reaction to your idea.

  5. well, I will be damned. The question now is how can it be reversed (Instead of kick starting the Escalation archetype, it could possibly start blamestorming and defensive behaviour.) The man MUST have a soft spot! Something about him or others must or can be able to make him go that way. It might be from the NBA HQ maybe?

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