As we sit on Christmas Day, looking at gifts in excess and everything that went into the thought and execution of a joyous holiday, we are left to think about that ultimate gift we waited for as kids. We all had one.
For me, it was the new Sega GameGear circa 1992. It was their updated color version of Nintendo’s Game Boy and most of my pals at the time had one. They raved and I was left pining for it. I consider it the only time I aggressively lobbied for a gift. I ended up getting it, even surviving a booby-trapped attempt to peek while my parents were away. While that was a painful week of reflection and mind games from my father, the end result was so great that it still makes the entire scene a fun nostalgic exercise.
And we know what that ultimate gift is for the Toronto Raptors too. As we’ve alluded to before, the Raptors want to hitch their Canadian wagon to the unique Canadian horse and ride him for 15 years of beautiful, built-in Canadian story lines. And while Andrew Wiggins is not quite the slam dunk first overall pick that he was a few months ago, he is a guaranteed top three selection and still the favorite to go No. 1. By all accounts, he is a player to build a franchise around.
But when I, in such a desperate yet opportunistic state, decided to betray my father and look in his tried-and-true hiding spot I knew the risk that was involved. If he caught me, there was a good chance that he would yank the gift and spend the next year or so strategically bringing up the betrayal whenever I got in trouble. It was quite the risk. I was incredibly fortunate to not lose the system when I got caught. When we remember it now, I never forget to bring that up.
The Raptors simply cannot take the risk of winning games, but we wonder whether their circumstances will hinder the possibility to get their ultimate gift. They are in such a curious spot that we cannot remember a time that has mirrored their quandary.
Simply put, it is going to be harder to miss the playoffs than it is to make them.
Barring a trade frenzy that sees the Raptors jettison DeMar DeRozan, Amir Johnson and Kyle Lowry, we do not see another team in the Atlantic Division that can overtake a Raptors squad that is not only much improved since ridding themselves of black hole Rudy Gay, but one that just beat the Thunder in Oklahoma City.
So it appears that even though this team is “tanking” for the best shot to acquire their homeland savior, it is going to be near impossible to do it. You cannot ask the players to not play hard every night; they seem to be thriving on the idea that their team has mailed it in and using it for extra motivation.
“We ain’t out of nothing,” DeRozan said after the win in Oklahoma City.
And that is the kind of mindset you are going to get from players in the locker room, especially ones who realize that they could very easily win their division. Tell a bunch of professionals that they are not good enough as a unit to succeed, so they should tank so they can land someone who is. How is that going to go over? As currently constituted, they seem primed to be in this thing to the end.
And again, we say this not because this is a good team right now. It is going to be hard to miss the playoffs because no one else is going to make the playoffs. It is the most unusual situation that we have ever seen.
The Celtics are currently in second place. They have no players.
The Knicks are in third place. They are a circus.
The Nets are next. They are big empty boxes under the Christmas tree. Flashy and maybe exciting but actually tear-inducing disappointments.
We will know if GM Masai Ujiri ultimately decides to trade Lowry to the Knicks for a lesser package, it will be a message sent loud and clear: We’ve improved you drastically. Please be man enough to take this division from us!
If the Raptors are hell-bent on that ultimate gift, they have to take a risk now. Lowry to the Knicks seems logical, even if the return is not, at face value, adequate. We don’t feel good about any other team putting a lot of pressure on.
It appears, crazy as it sounds, that this team is really going to need the chips to fall right to miss the playoffs.
Otherwise it may be an “ultimate gift” masked as a first round exit and James Michael McAdoo.
Even we wouldn’t risk a peek for that.