Last time we spoke about wishes for the New Year for the Toronto Raptors. We are cognizant of their curious situation and made sure to view every possible objective through that lens. Our biggest hope was that they would choose a direction and be definitive about that. Whether it is going to be an outright tank or a full-on playoff press for this season, we just wanted the direction to be clear. As GM Masai Ujiri said, it is not in anyone’s best interest to be caught in no man’s land.
Well, we certainly did not think that there would be a seemingly clear direction only a couple of days later. Even though there have not been any overt signs from the Raptors either way, it has become obvious to us that a path has been established, perhaps not of Ujiri’s choosing, but one that has forced the hand for everyone in the organization.
This Toronto Raptors team is all-in for the 2013-14 season.
We can acknowledge that this is quite a deviation from our columns of earlier in the season and even up to a couple of weeks ago. But we cannot ignore the tangible evidence any longer.
Let’s recap what they have done in the past couple of weeks. Remember, this was the time frame in which Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan were supposedly being actively shopped, while it was presumed that the on-court performance would suffer without alpha dog scorer Rudy Gay. Naturally, they played like a different team without Gay’s dead weight and have all rallied around the cause of proving wrong the detractors who assumed that this group was only good enough to wait until they found a savior in the next draft. No one has listened to that, apparently.
The Raptors have won nine of 11, including games against Oklahoma City and Indiana. They’ve also won a couple of games against the Knicks, who we think are the only team that could come back to beat Toronto in the Atlantic Division.
And the difference has been ball movement. In those 11 games, the Raptors are averaging 22.5 assists per game. Compare that to their league-worst 17 assists per game when they relied on Gay’s isolation-heavy offense. They weren’t winning then; they are winning now.
So we believe they have to be in for this season. They just have to be.
Winning games at Oklahoma City and against Indiana is no joke. This team is playing great. The way we see it, they were in before the year, excited about the season and their potential. Now they are an even better team. And they are in first place in their division with a circus of misfits as their competition. It only seems logical that they get excited about where this team, as currently constructed, can go.
We tend to focus less on the potential division title than some of the other factors here. It needs to be remembered that Greivis Vasquez is currently the backup point guard. Is he really a significant drop off from Kyle Lowry? We don’t think so. It certainly would not be the difference between a middle-of-the-road team and a bottom-feeder. If they traded DeRozan? The way Terrence Ross has been playing since stepping in Gay’s spot tells us that would not be a huge downgrade, either.
Even with deals that we don’t think are coming, this is not the Bucks or the Magic or the 76ers. The Raptors would have too small a chance at a top three pick that tearing apart a team playing this well would be a shortsighted venture in our minds. We simply do not see that value in it. Imagine getting rid of a really good young player like DeRozan and ending up with the seventh pick in the draft. They would miss out on their Canadian golden boy yet have to watch the guy they traded continue to get better. Talk about “no man’s land” in that scenario!
Perhaps this is completely flying in the face of Uriji’s grand plan. But he should have known that getting rid of a stat-stuffing pseudo-elite “scorer” would have consequences.