Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster will have some difficult decisions to make as the Toronto Raptors season continues to slip away. The window appears to be firmly shut, and Holding on to championship pride will only compromise the future.
“It’s only two weeks into the season, no need to push any panic buttons yet” …..
“Not playing in Toronto is the reason for the poor start, not talent”…
These are (somewhat) valid points that Toronto Raptors optimists have been making. It’s understandable, letting something go that you love isn’t easy. It’s time though, for the team and its fans to face facts: this roster is not very good, and its void of a primary building block to bridge the gap into the next era.
Yes, they’re coming off of a much-needed victory over the Sacramento Kings, but the issues with this team are still very real. At 2-6 with their only wins coming against the aforementioned Kings and the New York Knicks, it’s conceivable that the Toronto Raptors could be 10 games under .500 through their first 15 games. In a shortened season, with improvement across the board in the conference, that’s a death sentence.
The Toronto Raptors are statistically one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA, they’re 28th in rebounding, and have given up double-digit leads in 5 of their 6 losses. On offense, they shoot the most threes out of any team and are 24th in three-point percentage. Those numbers aren’t a mirage, they’re a reality.
The eye test shows it too. So far the Toronto Raptors look as if they’ve completely lost the championship swagger that carried them all last season. Frustration is visibly growing, and body language is at an all-time low. The main core that still remains from the 2019 title run looks completely out of gas as deep playoff runs year after year has clearly caught up to them.
To be clear, no one is to blame for this, it’s something every great team faces at some point: the moment when it’s over. The NBA, like most sports, runs in cycles. When you’re good for so long and pour resources into a “win now” mentality for years, inevitably, it must end at some point.
The key now for Masai Ujiri, Bobby Webster and head coach Nick Nurse is realizing this over before it’s too late. Where do they go from here?
The Toronto Raptors have several trade assets that could help reposition their future.
Kyle Lowry has been a franchise-altering player since he arrived in Toronto in 2013, and a lot of fans will have difficulty coming to terms with trading him. He means a lot to the franchise- there’s no doubt about that, but as an expiring contract who’s likely to walk at the end of the season, the team needs to trade him now to replenish the asset.
There is going to be a large market for Lowry particularly amongst contenders looking to add at the trade deadline. The Toronto Raptors get draft capital along with a young prospect to build for the future, Lowry gets another chance at a title to cement his hall of fame legacy. Everybody wins.
Another player that should be on the move is Pascal Siakam, who has taken the brunt of the blame for the team’s atrocious play. While his numbers have been decent enough, it’s clear that he isn’t a leader or a number one option. Not to mention, his 150 million dollar contract that has 3 years left on it is looking more and more like a massive miscalculation by management.
If there is a team who hasn’t yet realized Siakam isn’t the star we thought he would be, the Toronto Raptors need to cut bait immediately. Otherwise, his trade stock will continue to plummet with every lackluster performance until no one will be willing to take on his massive contract, and Toronto will be stuck overpaying him. They need to be smart and trade Siakam before it’s too late to once again: replenish the asset with draft capital and prospects.
Another thing to factor in when talking about trading the team’s top two players is the fact that the 2021 draft class is rumored to be the deepest in years. The Toronto Raptors are already the second-worst team in the league, why not lean into it and try to get a young cornerstone. Cade Cunningham falling in their lap could drastically alter their immediate future.
Some argue that the Toronto Raptors will have ample cap space next offseason, so keeping the band intact and centering them around an incoming star is the best move. To that end, though, what stars are left to go after? After Giannis Antetekoumpo’s surprise extension, along with Anthony Davis and Paul George both doing the same, the class of potential big free agents is quickly drying up. There’s also no guarantee they would convince Lowry to return even if they did somehow bring in a star-caliber player.
These are difficult times for the Toronto Raptors. The ‘golden era’ of the franchise produced a lot of playoff basketball, and even the first major title the city has ever seen in 26 years. That era though appears to have come to an end.
For the first time in seven seasons, the Toronto Raptors are in serious danger of missing the playoffs, and maybe that’s okay. This franchise has nothing to prove by fighting for a 6th or 7th seed in the playoffs like the Atlanta Hawks or New York Knicks do. Now, it’s about being smart – not sentimental – to ensure the next great Raptor run starts sooner than later.