Before the 2020-2021 season began, optimism was in abundance among Raptors fans. No—the franchise did not make any sexy splurges in the offseason or any apparent upgrades on the roster. After nearly a decade of perennial success, the fans collectively known as “We The North”, have grown accustomed to entrusting in their messiah, Masai Ujiri, and his executive expertise. However, with the Raptors currently sitting at 2-8 and off to their worst start in 10 years, optimism is drying up quicker than the Sahara.
At their current record, the Raptors are on pace to finish with 14.4 wins. Even with a truncated season of 72 games, a .200 winning percentage for the Raptors was unimaginable at the start of the season. Now, it is reality. What exactly is going wrong for the 2019 NBA champions? Is there hope that the franchise ranked the NBA’s 2nd best organization in the last five years can flip the script? Can they realistically salvage this season after such a sour start?
I’d be remiss if I considered doubting Ujiri and his camp’s ability to execute. After all, this is the same shrewd dude who pulled the trigger on arguably the greatest trade in NBA history. Nonetheless, the prospects of saving this season are running almost as thin as the patience of the boisterous and ferocious Raptors fandom.
At this juncture in the season, the Raptors are facing dire dissonance. Their record does not reflect their aspirations, nor their statistical output. Despite competing with the Detroit Pistons for the worst record in the NBA, the Raptors point differential per game ranks 19th in the league. This puts them above the Memphis Grizzles, Golden State Warriors, and Oklahoma Thunder, who all sit at .500 or above—suggesting that irrespective of their sluggish start, the Raptors should be a .500 team.
In my previous article, I discussed how the home of the Raptors this season could gravely impact their overall success. Though I hate to admit that I may have jinxed or “put tongue” on my beloved franchise, my forecast so far has unfortunately been spot-on. With only three of their 10 games being played at “home”, arguing this as the reason is challenging due to an insufficient sample size. What it can allude to, however, is the unique disadvantage and unprecedented circumstances the Raptors are facing this season. No other team has had to upheave their home and relocate to not only a different city, but an entirely different country. As the season progresses and the home-away game ratio balances, a more credible correlation can be made. Needless to say, the logistics for the Raptors this season is uniquely unfavorable.
The question that now presents itself is whether that dreaded R word is a viable option. Do they rebuild? Trade their most valuable players for a stockpile of other assets? Take their losses and play the long game? Or, are fans and media alike impertinent and impatient in their analysis of the team? Can the Raptors really turn the table and resuscitate this season before they flatline? Fresh off four straight victories, the surging Charlotte Hornets will play the Raptors in what is a critical “home” game for the franchise. If the Raptors wish to stifle the Hornets and return to NBA prominence, they must be clinical, calculated, and comprehensive from here on out.