What a year it has been for the Toronto Raptors. After starting the season 6-12, a blockbuster trade drastically altered the team’s fortune and opened up a world of possibilities that did not seem likely by any stretch of the imagination.
At the outset of the 2013-14 campaign, I viewed the Raptors as a team that was built to play .500 basketball and one that could find itself in a playoff spot when the music stopped at the end of the season. I looked at the starting five of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas and saw a group capable of competing with most teams on most nights.
The problem, which everyone realized, was that an offense led by Gay was stifling the production from DeRozan and the development of Terrence Ross. Still, it was somewhat shocking when general manager Masai Ujiri was able to pull off a trade that was as much about strengthening the bench as it was about addition by subtraction.
Immediate reaction to the trade was mixed, but there was a belief that the Raptors would actually be better with DeRozan as the primary scoring option and with the athletic Ross inserted into the starting unit.
But there was also a sense that Ujiri was positioning the team to tank in order to get out of what he referred to as “no-man’s land,” which is the constant cycle of being neither bad enough to secure a high draft pick, nor good enough to go deep in the playoffs.
Gay was traded to the Sacramento Kings on Dec. 9 and reports surfaced several days later that Lowry was on the verge of becoming a member of the New York Knicks until Madison Square Garden Executive Chairman James Dolan blocked a proposed deal.
From there, speculation ran wild as to whether Lowry would remain as a Raptor following the Feb. 20 trade deadline. Ujiri’s belief all along was that the performance of the players would dictate his approach to building the team. So with the team clearly wanting and proving their desire to win now, the general manager stayed the course and kept the roster intact for a playoff run that is now ramping up as the regular season is winding down. (cont’d)