Not one but two key players could be close to returning for the Raptors

Darko Rajakovic, Scottie Barnes, Immanuel Quickley, RJ Barrett, Toronto Raptors
Darko Rajakovic, Scottie Barnes, Immanuel Quickley, RJ Barrett, Toronto Raptors / Cole Burston/GettyImages

When you hit rock bottom and continue falling, you know it's bad.

Kobi Simmons was signed just days ago to a 10-day contract but played 24 minutes on Wednesday night against the New York Knicks; he was -25 on the night. That wasn't even the worst number on the team, as Gary Trent Jr. was -32 in his 31 minutes. Two-way forward Mouhamdou Gueye played 11 minutes, while journeyman wing Garrett Temple had to play 27 minutes and newly-signed fringe player Javon Freeman-Liberty started and played 28 minutes.

The result of that skeleton crew forming up against the Knicks? A 145-101 beatdown at home in front of the moribund Toronto fans who showed up more to see Jalen Brunson than the Raptors. The 145 points allowed tied a franchise-worst mark, and they were only two away from tying the worst loss in franchise history. This team has been absolutely ravaged by injuries and absences, and that after they had already moved off of their best players for more long-term pieces.

Scottie Barnes had surgery on a fractured hand and isn't coming back this year. Jakob Poeltl likely isn't either after having surgery on his finger. Chris Boucher is shelved with a knee injury. Two-way center Jontay Porter, who flashed some real potential as a reserve center, would be playing real minutes for Toronto right now if he weren't sitting out while the league investigates suspicious gambling activity surrounding him. Even inconsistent second-year wing Ochai Agbaji left the Knicks game early with a hip contusion.

The Raptors have reinforcements coming

Things may be too bad for anything to be considered good news, but there appears to be a lifeline coming the Raptors' way. RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley, tasked with carrying the offense in the absence of Scottie Barnes, have both been out of the lineup; that looks like it may soon be changing.

RJ Barrett has not played since March 11th as he stepped away from the team to mourn the loss of his younger brother. Barrett had been having a career stretch for the Raptors prior to his departure, averaging 20.8 points, 6.2 rebounds and four assists while shooting 41.7 percent from deep and scoring efficiently inside the arc. Getting Barrett back will give the Raptors an NBA-level shot creator to take possessions away from outmatched fringe players.

Barrett's longtime teammate Immanuel Quickley has been sidelined himself since March 17th dealing with a personal issue of his own. He missed his fifth-straight game on Wednesday night, but along with Barrett has returned to the team and is ramping up to return to play, potentially as soon as the Raptors' next game on Sunday.

Quickley was the centerpiece of the OG Anunoby trade return and will be looked at to take over the reins of the Raptors' offense, although he has struggled under the weight of carrying the offense without shooting and co-stars alongside him. He continues to shoot the ball well from outside but isn't lifting the team on his own.

Even so, having both Barrett and Quickley back will mean a lot for the Raptors and their ability to break their losing streak. If they do indeed suit up on Easter they will face a Philadelphia 76ers team that is playing without Joel Embiid, although they have been playing better lately and will likely be favored.

It won't be enough to turn the Raptors into a winning team, and the franchise is largely ok with losing to maximize their chances of retaining their first-round pick in this year's draft, but at some point, they need to break the losing streak so they don't roll into the offseason losers of 21-straight games. That's a headline this team won't want hanging around their necks all summer.

For now, getting Quickley and Barrett back means this group moves back toward being a real NBA team, and that will have to be enough. Vince Carter and Chris Bosh aren't walking through that door, but competence is enough of a reward at this point in the season.

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