Fans of the Toronto Raptors have been divided into two warring camps for some months now. There are those who believe the roster is simply not strong enough to ever mature into a contending team. In the jargon of the day, these fans want the Raps to tank, i.e., give up. General Manager Masai Ujiri has a 5-year mandate from his boss Tim Leiweke, meaning Ujiri won’t lose his job if he intentionally makes the team worse. The tankers would like to see him do just that by trading our best players in full or partial return for draft picks. This year’s crop of NCAA collegiate players is considered so strong that any one of Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, Marcus Smart or someone else can turn around a franchise by himself, a la LeBron James. The trade press already assumes Kyle Lowry is gone, and tankers want DeMar DeRozan to follow him, which would all but guarantee a poor record, and a high draft slot. Our pick, plus those gained in trades – Nirvana!
The other camp offers two reasons why the tanking strategy is misguided. Since 1990, when the NBA starting running its draft lottery, the team with the worst record has won the right to pick first only 3 times, and the second-worst just 4. In other words, even if the Raps did contrive to finish last, there’s no guarantee they would receive the first or second pick. And, even if the lottery’s ping pong balls bounced favourably, what if the new Wunderkind blows out his knees like Derrick Rose, or simply flops? Andrea Bargnani was a first-overall selection, and he’s frustrating New York Knicks fans this season just as he did those of the Raps. (Some first-overall picks who flopped much worse than Andrea: Michael Olowakandi, Kwame Brown, Joe Smith). In the meantime, we might have 3 or more non-playoff seasons to endure, on top of the 5 we’ve already got under our belts. How much patience are we expected to have?
The other big problem with tanking is the expectation that trading with a non-contender willing to give up its top pick is somehow an easy task. No bad team’s GM in his right mind will trade away his first-rounder in this draft. Beyond that, trades in the NBA are hideously complex (trust me on this point, or this post will never end); as a result, gazillions of deals are discussed for every one that’s actually consummated.
By now, I’ve made my bias clear – I’m an anti-tanker. However, I can be persuaded otherwise, should the Raps’ season go off a cliff. While that could happen due to a rash of injuries, I think the team as currently constituted is competitive, even playoff-worthy. The Raps are also capable of losing a lot of close games (cf: its record in overtime is 1-3), and ending with a crummy record anyway, though one not bad enough to assure a top pick. That’s the tankers’ nightmare scenario, and trump argument.
There’s one player on the Raps who can tip the balance by his play. In Part Two of this discussion, I’ll tell you who he is, and why I’ve come to the conclusion he’s The Man.
Brian Boake is Senior Editor for Raptors Rapture. “Like” Raptors Rapture on Facebook and follow us on twitter @RaptorsRapture for all the latest news and updates about the best damn NBA team from Canada.
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