First rebuild, then contend, finally win - but where are we?

 

Feb 19, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan (10) with center Jonas Valanciunas (17) and guard Terrence Ross (31) against the Chicago Bulls at Air Canada Centre. The Bulls beat the Raptors 94-92. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

I’m struck by the chilling thoughts of the esteemed Bill Simmons in one of his Grantland pieces entitled “What if this is OKC’s last shot?”, which I strongly recommend. To summarize, Simmons muses about the Oklahoma City Thunder, and whether they actually can win an NBA title, or whether their time has passed. We all think of the Thunder as a young team on the rise, but Simmons points out that Kevin Durant just completed his seventh season.

“…America has progressed from infancy to senility without having passed through a period of maturity.” source unknown, quoted by James Bond in The Hildebrand Rarity, from Quantum of Solace by Ian Fleming

Our team, the Toronto Raptors, has finally, finally, worked its way out of the Draft Lottery by making the playoffs for the first time in six seasons. We are more than justified in believing that much greater success lies just around the corner – but is it? One thing which the study of history has taught me is to not believe in inevitable events or guarantees about the future. Chance, that trickster, lurks in every shadow, and can leap out without warning at any moment.

Let’s consider the season just passed. What kind of odds could you have gotten had you walked into a Vegas betting establishment on December 7,when the Raps were foundering at 6-12, and wagered on them finishing 48-34? I don’t know, but I suspect you’d have a lot more money than you do currently. Even a bitterly disappointing playoff defeat shouldn’t take the shine off a great turnaround. But what does that mean for next season?

Here’s my point: sooner or later, you’ve got to go all in, if you’re going to win the big prize. I think the Raps are for real, but we can’t expect some sort of algorithmic, predictable improvement. Next year, we make the Eastern Conference finals, the year after that, the Championship…no. The future can arrive with astonishing speed, and it can also leave the metaphorical station without us at the same rate (as Simmons’ piece so graphically illustrates).

The Eastern Conference will be bad again next season. Miami’s Big 3 may fracture, and will be another year older regardless. Indiana seems to have righted its ship just in time, although they looked dreadful on many occasions. Brooklyn’s core is ancient, and Chicago collapsed in the first round. Last year’s tankers don’t figure to be any better. Is ’14-’15 our year? That’s unknowable, but Masai Ujiri, Dwane Casey and the players need to act like it is.

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