The Ultimate Raptors Rankings are the RaptorBlog editors’ attempt to rank the top 30 Toronto Raptors of all time. These rankings are obviously somewhat arbitrary and endlessly debatable, but they’re based on each player’s contribution, performance and longevity as a Raptor, and on how beloved they are by Raptors fans. We’ll count down a new Raptor every Wednesday on this blog.

T.J. Ford’s Raptors résumé:

  • 10th on Toronto’s All-Time points-per-game list (13.2)
  • 2nd on Toronto’s All-Time assists-per-game list (7.2)
  • 5th on Toronto’s All-Time Player Efficiency Rating list (19.0)
  • Starting point guard on the only division championship team in franchise history

When Bryan Colangelo traded Charlie Villanueva for T.J. Ford in his first big splash as Raptors G.M., the fan-base was split. You had those who could see that the NBA was moving towards a guard’s league, salivating over the opportunities that T.J. provided. Then you had the basketball purists, who believed in the rule that you never trade big-for-small.

Ford’s 2006-2007 season started with him being voted the fastest player in the NBA in a  Sports Illustrated players poll and being handed the starting point guard job on an intriguing and unpredictable team mixed with NBA unprovens and European imports.

Though Chris Bosh, No. 1 overall pick Andrea Bargnani, Anthony Parker and Jorge Garbajosa got a ton of credit, when things really took off for that surprising Raptors squad, it was T.J. leading the charge, bringing the best point guard play Raptors fans had seen since Alvin Williams was boogieing down the ACC court.

After a horrible start, Toronto began to chip away in the standings and move up the Eastern Conference ladder, eventually finding themselves battling not just for a playoff spot, but for an Atlantic Division title and home court advantage in the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.

And then, in what would prove to be the real test of that underdog team, they lost their best player, their leader, the franchise, Chris Bosh. Bosh would miss 13 games that season, and at the time, many believed the jig was up for the in-over-their-heads Raptors.

Instead, the team simply kept on winning, keeping their heads above water long enough without Bosh that they were then able to catch fire when CB4 returned. And no player did more during that Bosh-less stretch than T.J. Ford did, carrying the Raptors on his shoulders most nights. The perfect capper, of course, was Ford’s buzzer-beating jumper against the Clippers at Staples Centre.

You know the rest of the story from there.

Bosh, T.J. and the Raps completed a 47-win season that landed them the East’s third seed and an Atlantic Division banner.

However, while fans rejoiced over what was supposed to be the rebirth of the Raptors, a point guard controversy was bubbling under the surface, and would eventually come to a head the following season.

Ford, who already had a history of spinal-related injuries in his young career, would suffer another serious back/neck injury after being pummeled under the basket by Al Horford.

The resulting injury caused Ford to miss two months of the 2007-2008 season, a campaign that showed the Raptors might have slightly over-achieved the previous year. While Ford healed, Jose Calderon took the reins at point guard and ran with it, becoming a fan-favourite and causing some (including Bryan Colangelo) to believe that he was a starting-quality NBA point guard.

It also didn’t help that when Ford finally returned, he seemed awkwardly uncomfortable on the court, equally irritable on the bench and distant when talking to the media. He lost his starting job, fell into a habit of playing selfish basketball and never really came close to his level of play from 2006-2007.

With Calderon up for a big contract, home fans booing T.J.’s every mistake and chanting Jose’s name, the writing was on the wall for Ford’s exit. Fans knew it, management knew it, and Ford, himself, probably knew it when almost sarcastically-sounding, he said something along the lines of “see you guys next year” in his season-ending media scrum.

Ford was traded to the Pacers in the deal that brought Jermaine O’Neal to Toronto just months later. That experiment failed, to say the least, for the Raptors, while Ford fell down the depth charts in Indiana.

What would have happened had Ford stayed healthy is something we’ll never know. Perhaps he would have continued to evolve into an All-Star quality point guard. Perhaps the Raptors would have continued to build with Ford and Bosh. Perhaps Ford would enjoy the can-do-no-wrong treatment that Jose Calderon now undeservedly receives.

The reality is that it didn’t work out, and now we’re left wondering what could have been while ranking Ford no. 18 on this list.

T.J. could throw a jaw-dropping pass and rack up dimes with the best of them. His game-changing speed caused opposing defences fits. He was a matchup nightmare on his best days, but unfortunately, was also a nightmare for his own team on his worst days.

He was a polarizing figure who some would say is the third best point guard in franchise history, and his place in RaptorBlog’s Ultimate Raptors Rankings can not be denied.

At the end of the day though, Ford’s inability to control that drool-worthy speed that made him so effective was probably his downfall.

As a 2007 Sports Illustrated article said about TJ, quickly is “the only way Ford knows how to do anything on a basketball court.”

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