It’s the start of a new year. Generally we use it as times of reflection and feigned optimism for a number of righteous goals that we secretly know are hardly sustainable. It’s an exercise in contrived motivation, but it is entertaining, especially when we can look back and laugh about the chasm between the objective and the result.
“This year’s going to be different!” We hear it and applaud the enthusiasm that we know will wane in about two weeks. But we support the effort. It’s like that with our Toronto Raptors. They talk. They proclaim. They rally the base. And we buy in, so hopeful that this time is the one. And then we don’t. Bitter reality sets in and we become skeptical and sarcastic. Until the next time.
Exactly one year ago, the Raptors had a real optimistic new year’s message to sell. They had won eight of nine games and Jonas Valanciunas was really starting to show something. They were riding high and decided to supplement the success with a trade for (elite?) Rudy Gay a month later. It was a mistake and the New Year’s enthusiasm was squashed.
So let’s address our 2014 hopes for the Toronto Raptors, even amid a crazy position of variables and circumstances.
No “No man’s land,” please: Whichever direction GM Masai Ujiri decides to go, we just ask that it is definitive. He said as much in a recent interview and we assume that he, and everyone else in the NBA, realizes what a terrible position “no man’s land” is for a franchise. If they decide that the team, as currently assembled, has no viable shot at long term championship potential, then they need to make bold moves that will guarantee short term failure with the opportunity at future success. If he concludes the inverse, then make a commitment to the core of the team.
Maximum minutes for Terrence Ross: As we have said before, the Raptors need to find out what they have in Ross, a top 10 pick two years ago. He shows flashes of shooting and athleticism, but does so with an inconsistency that must make them wary of how he fits into the long term plan. Ross has been the beneficiary of the time opened up by Gay’s trade and for the most part, he has taken advantage of the time. He is making more than 40 percent of his 3s for the season, which is a welcome change from the often brutal long-range shooting stats from Gay and DeMar DeRozan. But it looks like the Raptors are committed to giving him more than 30 minutes per game, so they should have a good idea of where he fits by the end of the year.
Don’t trade DeRozan: We understand the rationale behind shopping him, especially if they are fully devoted to a tank. He would probably garner a reasonable return and they would struggle offensively without him. But he is 24, having a career season, and is now a reasonable performer in the Player Efficiency Rating, which would have never been the case in previous seasons. It shows he’s improving and becoming more than just a volume scorer. And he’s passionate and fiery. He hasn’t made the playoffs yet and seems willing to do anything to get there. This does not sound like a guy you get rid of on the chance that you will lose games and then get lucky in the lottery. In our mind, getting rid of a very good player for a chance at three things happening (losing, lottery luck, the lottery player being significantly better than DeRozan) does not seem like a sound business model.
Showcase Valanciunas enough to soften the blow of our All-Star prediction: Yes we did. In our “bold predictions” column we stated that Valanciunas would make the All-Star team as the centerpiece of this improving Raptors team. We think no less of Valanciunas as a player and have attributed much of the situation this year on having to share the ball with arguably the league’s most monopolizing black hole in Gay and an offense that didn’t prioritize ball movement. But with Gay gone, there has been a noteworthy paradigm shift and Valanciunas, along with Amir Johnson, have been big beneficiaries. He has scored in double figures in nine of his last 10 games, usually on single-digit shots. He still needs the ball a lot more. If he gets it, we still feel comfortable that he is an All-Star center, even if it is too late for him to make that team this year.
We really don’t think these are unreasonable requests. We concede that the Raptors are in an unenviable situation and one we are grateful that we do not have to navigate. Perhaps the curious situation will be their built in excuse for when they make the wrong decision, whatever it is. At least the Raptors haven’t established exactly what they want to do yet, so we will never know how wide that chasm actually is when we look back at the end of 2014.