With no “breaking” reports over the past few days regarding the future of Kyle Lowry in Toronto, we have an adequate news gap (coinciding with All-Star weekend) to do our February “State of the Squad.” Last month’s version spoke at length addressing our epiphany that our self-described “McGrady-lite” DeMar DeRozan was not the engine that drove this rising team. Kyle Lowry was and he was playing so well that the Raptors looked like a sound playoff contender. Nothing has changed on that front.
In regards to success, this “state” has a similar tenor. Barring a major surprise in the conference or a shakeup to the Toronto Raptors roster, this team is going to the playoffs. But as we’ve discussed before, we have no idea what constitutes “success” in the Eastern conference. We aren’t sure that anyone can answer that; it appears to lie solely in preseason expectation.
We can’t quite nail down the preseason expectations for the Raptors. A full season of Rudy Gay made it seem as if they were committed to a full-season playoff push. His subsequent trade attempted to change that narrative, though. Considering the shift in result, we have to surmise that the current expectation is similar to the preseason one.
So we must ask what sort of playoff run would constitute success based on the state of the East. Had everyone in the Raptors organization known that they would win the Atlantic Division and probably write their ticket to the second round of the playoffs, they would have deemed it an enormous success, and probably the fundamental start of something big.
While we can’t quite say that now, there is no room to completely discount that accomplishment, no matter how hard the analysts will try and taint it. Admittedly, we are being a tad presumptuous by stating a likely first round playoff win, but that seems like a reasonable assumption for now.
It would be short-sighted of us to think “success” could be quantified so simply. The success has caused an expected caution when it comes to point guard Kyle Lowry. We’ve spoken consistently about what may or may not happen with Lowry, but it cannot be debated that the Raptors are in a difficult spot with him. Essentially, their hand has been forced with the team’s success. It has been a noteworthy debate about whether keeping Lowry is GM Masai Ujiri’s ideal scenario. We’ve always asserted that being able to secure Canadian golden boy Andrew Wiggins was their dream end game. Whether regular season and probable post season success is an adequate consolation prize is in the eye of the beholder.
We can talk about success and its subjective nature, with the Raptors as the template, but if a complete reboot was Ujiri’s grand scheme, then what exactly would it take for us, and them, to say that it was worth it to compete and forgo the chance at what is billed as a litany of “true difference makers.”
Other than a championship, though, placing labels like “success” on different regular season and playoff achievements seems like an arbitrary exercise. For a team struggling over the years to find an identity and any semblance of consistency, the idea of “success” can’t be a fixed notion. We hope that the Raptors outlook can be a malleable as their circumstances have been.