Where do the Toronto Raptors stand in their quest to tank for Cade Cunningham?

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - MARCH 21: Cade Cunningham #2 of the Oklahoma State Cowboys (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - MARCH 21: Cade Cunningham #2 of the Oklahoma State Cowboys (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /

Right now, there are two kinds of Toronto Raptors fans. On one side, you have those reveling in the club’s recent two-game win streak that featured a historic 53-point blowout and a Gary Trent Jr. buzzer-beater who are excited to see what Khem Birch and Freddie Gillespie can offer.

On the other, you have those whose sole focus the rest of the way is on improving draft lottery odds.

There are no two ways about it – Raptors fans are divided in their conflicting desires to either push for a playoff – or, more likely, play-in – spot or bottom out to position themselves nicely ahead of a deep draft. Raptors head coach Nick Nurse predictably threw plenty of cold water on the latter option, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t in the franchise’s best interests long-term.

Focusing on the


improving lottery odds through losing option, there still remains a path to finishing with one of the worst records in the league. Doing so would not only potentially double their odds at the No. 1 pick (and a crack at Cade Cunningham), but also improve their floor.

This move could possibly offer Toronto their highest selection since taking Jonas Valanciunas fifth overall in 2011.

To better measure Toronto’s outlook in a potential ‘Fade for Cade’ derby, let’s break down the remaining schedule, as well as the bottom-dwelling candidates they’ll need to jockey for position with.

Toronto Raptors Remaining Schedule

Can a schedule be tough and easy at the same time? On one hand, they find themselves operating within a stretch of seven sub-.500 opponents in eight games, with the loss to the LeBron James- and Anthony Davis-less Lakers serving as their only clash with a winning team.

For as easy as the competition may seem, those games are being played in a brutally tight window.

Monday’s win over Washington kicked off a stretch of five games in seven days and seven in 10. The busy slate is proving particularly taxing on a team that is missing Kyle Lowry (foot), Fred VanVleet (hip), Rodney Hood (hip), Paul Watson (COVID-19 protocols), Patrick McCaw (knee) and Jalen Harris (hip).

That was before OG Anunoby was ejected on Tuesday night and VanVleet and DeAndre’ Bembry received suspensions for leaving the bench against LA.

Once this ‘soft’ segment of the schedule lifts, there remains two games against the Brooklyn Nets, plus a tough four-game Western swing featuring games against four of the top five teams in the Western Conference.

The Other Bottom Feeders

The 20-32 Raptors have the seventh-best lottery odds in the league, with a 7.5% chance at the top pick. Of the teams still below them in the standings, the young Oklahoma City Thunder could be feisty enough to string together some wins, while Russell Westbrook might just be capable of single-handedly winning a few meaningless games for the Washington Wizards.

Assuming the NBA’s true bottom tier is occupied by the Detroit Pistons, Minnesota Timberwolves, Houston Rockets, and Orlando Magic, the team to watch for positioning purposes will be the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Just 1.5 games behind Toronto, Cleveland has the fourth-easiest remaining schedule, young talent in Collin Sexton and Darius Garland, and two more games against the Raps.

In a draft with something of a consensus among the top five (Cunningham, Evan Mobley, Jalen Suggs and G League Ignite stars Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga) and a subsequent drop, the Raptors’ positioning relative to their fellow lottery selectors matters.

Tanking in the NBA guarantees nothing, with even the worst team owning a mere %14 chance at picking first. Still, until some league decides to do something radical to try and avoid rewarding losing while retaining competitive balance through the draft, losses will prove beneficial to teams in certain circumstances. Toronto might be in such a situation now.

Raptor fans clearly want to see their team succeed. For now, that means development from the likes of Gary Trent Jr and Malachi Flynn and strong showings from Birch and Gillespie. It also might mean losing games, a bummer scenario that could be softened with the arrival of a future franchise cornerstone come July 29th.

Next. NBA Mock Draft 2.0. dark