In a season of Murphy’s Law for the Toronto Raptors – where it seems like everything that could possibly go wrong for them, has gone wrong – this team has now forgotten how to lose games as well.
Ignore the 34 losses as part of their official record. Instead, take a look at the team’s 5-5 record since March 29th: the last game in which Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., OG Anunoby, and Pascal Siakam were all available for.
This team has increasingly been resting more of their top players in an effort to drop in the standings, and secure a higher pick in this year’s stacked draft class, featuring the likes of Cade Cunningham, Evan Mobley, and Jalen Suggs. The Raptors are a team fresh off an NBA Championship with a relatively young core. There isn’t much of a consolation reward to making The Playoffs for them – either financially, because there will be minimal ticket revenue, or logically, as the odds would be heavily stacked against them.
It ultimately comes down to this question: would the Toronto Raptors rather squeeze their way into The Playoffs by the skin of their teeth, and hope to provide an exciting series against the Philadelphia 76ers or Brooklyn Nets, but still stand a near-zero chance of winning a championship? Or, would they rather see how Malachi Flynn can handle the role of being a lead point guard, develop OG Anunoby’s ability to create his own shot, and get a glance of what Gary Trent Jr. is capable of as a first scoring option, all while rolling out an inferior lineup, and hoping to draft a generational talent in this year’s draft?
Emotions, financials, and organizational cultural impact aside, the Raptors made the right decision to rest their best players, and try to lose these past ten games. When Masai Ujiri arrived in 2013 and traded Rudy Gay for scraps, he infamously told the media, “we know we will not be trapped in the middle.”
Translation: the Raptors will be contenders, or they will be building for a supernova future, but they will not settle for mediocrity.
Once again, after finding his team hovering around the tenth seed for the majority of the season, Ujiri acted on his word.
Since March 29th, Lowry has only played in one game; VanVleet has played in three; and Anunoby has played in seven. Siakam and Trent Jr. have also missed two contests each. On paper, it looks like this team was advertently set up for catastrophy, which is only further compounded by the fact that their lack of roster depth has been among their most glaring issues all season long.
Fast forward to today, and the Raptors find themselves in the play-in tournament. Accidentally, they are now closer to being in the eighth seed than the 15th. Over the last ten games, Malachi Flynn is averaging 12.4 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 5.6 assists. Gary Trent Jr. has already set two new career highs, and hit a game winner over the Washington Wizards. Yuta Watanabe has also broken his own career high twice, and at times looked like an All-Star on the floor, while most recently, Paul Watson Jr. exploded for thirty points against the Orlando Magic.
This team’s depth flipped the script. After becoming one of the major culprits for landing the Raptors in a position where ‘tanking’ was even an option, they crossed losing off the board once it became the optimal plan.
The Raptors are now caught in the middle – Ujiri’s least favourite place to be – and the time for making roster changes is long gone. The team’s issues at the center position have been resolved after the signings of Khem Birch and Freddie Gillespie, and it appears as though the team’s bench unit is ready to step up. It’s more than likely that this past week has provided the Raptors front office with more imminent questions than answers as to how they will approach these final 15 games of the season.
These guys just lose when they’re supposed to win, and they win when they’re supposed to lose. It might just be time for them to tank their way to a championship.