The whole Toronto Raptors world screamed tank time after Rudy Gay was dealt to the Sacramento Kings. We argued that the deal had nothing to do with tanking, rather the objective was dumping Rudy’s awful contract and improve chemistry. Since the trade, the Raps are 3-1 and have played their best basketball of the season.
There’s ball movement, DeMar DeRozan has proven that he can handle a bigger load offensively, Amir Johnson has turned up the heat, Kyle Lowry has been a phenomenal force on both ends, and Greivis Vasquez’s PnR has proved to be all Jonas Valanciunas needed to get back to ‘Val-nasty’ mode. Simply put, there’s no more cringing involved when watching this team, and it’s really a beautiful thing.
But of course, it’s the Toronto Raptors – when anything good happens, it must be put to a stop ASAP. There have been multiple reports indicating Masai Ujiri is trying to get into the top 5 of this draft, and to do that, this team will have to be bad. I mean, really bad. Right now, the Raptors sit at 9-13, which puts them half a game back of the division leading Boston Celtics. The Atlantic division title is clearly within reach with the horribad Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks. There is an opportunity here to make something happen, however the Raps also sit 3 1/2 games away from the bottom of the division. This is an interesting time because there is still the flexibility to go either way in the weak East, and Ujiri has a tough call to make.
Kyle Lowry is on the trading block according to numerous reports, and if the Raps are looking to officially tank, this is the way to go. Lowry is the MVP of this Raps team, and the best PG this franchise has ever seen. If Lowry goes, the team will fall apart. Defensively, point guards will be able to create at ease while you lose a consistent scoring punch and distributor. I can go on all day emphasizing the value of KL3, but that’s not what this article is about. You deal Lowry, you become bad. After that, Amir Johnson is likely the next one out. With Amir and Lowry both gone (likely for little return), this team should be bad enough to be a bottom 5 team in the NBA. Additionally, DeRozan, the guy who has developed as the leader of this team, will likely be frustrated and won’t want to put up with losing anymore. He might end up being dealt as well if this is the case, and the core would consist of JV and Ross moving forward. If this team is going to be blown up, it’s time to do it right. This team will be a joke, but at least it won’t be in the middle anymore.
With that being said, when Lowry is gone, it’s officially time to support tank nation. Until then, I’ll be cheering for the Raps every time they touch the court.
The other side of the divide would be to pursue a winning season and consider extending Lowry. I know it may sound crazy to actually keep good players on this team, but believe me, it just may work. Giving away what you have now for such uncertainty seems like it could end as a nightmare once again. DeMar DeRozan, Amir Johnson, Kyle Lowry, and Jonas Valanciunas are all pieces that can be building blocks of this franchise. Dumping them for essentially nothing in order to lose more just doesn’t seem right to me. With a significant amount of cap space opened up, the Raps now have some flexibility moving forward. The course of action here would be to hope for continued development from Ross, DeRozan, JV and co while trying to fill the holes through free agency and trades. Ujiri has done a good job of building assets for this club, similar to what Daryl Morey of the Houston Rockets did in order to acquire James Harden. I’m not sure when a budding superstar will be available for acquisition, however it’s certainly a safer bet then hoping for a potential superstar in a draft that’s likely 6 deep. If Masai trades every asset on this team aside from JV and Ross for garbage, and this team ends up with the 7th pick, then I really don’t know how I’m going to tolerate being a Raptors fan anymore.
At this point, my advice to all Raptors fans is to enjoy this season for what it is. You can’t change anything, so just have fun watching the Raps play like a real team, and cheer for every win until it becomes apparent what exactly the direction of this team is going to be.
Again, there are two real choices here: acquire players along the same development curve as DeRozan and Valanciunas and change the culture of this franchise, or blow it up while receiving little-to-no return on your assets, potentially get a top 5 pick, and rebuild once again. To quote the great Ujiri himself, “I think winning is what you want to build around.” The only thing left to do at this point is wait and see, but an Atlantic Division title with home-court advantage in the playoffs sounds more appealing than the 6th pick in the draft.