It's difficult to continue finding the synonyms for "terrible" to describe the Toronto Raptors' 2023-24 season properly. Head coach Darko Rajakovic now stands at 11-18 on the season, with three of those wins coming against the league's three worst teams in the Pistons, Spurs, and Wizards (two of which required insane comebacks).
The vibes could not be better heading into the Christmas break as the Raptors dominated the Utah Jazz for three quarters. Scottie Barnes recorded 24 first-half points, and the Raptors entered the final stanza with a seemingly impregnable 13-point lead.
After surrendering 41 points in the fourth quarter, Rajakovic and the Raptors lost 126-119 in one of the most pathetic performances you'll see all season long. After spoiling a night where Barnes set a new career-high in points, Rajakovic authored one of the most tone-deaf quotes of the season.
Rajakovic replied "What? How? Why? Who?" when asked if he would consider making bigger lineup changes, implying that he doesn't have anyone else on the bench who could make a difference.
This is arrogance. It's assuming his way is beyond reproach. Inflexibility like that has cost better coaches their jobs in a shorter amount of time.
Darko Rajakovic looks like a bad coach as Toronto Raptors choke to Jazz.
Rajakovic fans will point to the fact that he is a rookie head coach working with a roster that has little to no cohesion. He's allowed some learning on the job, provided he actually learns and adapts his style appropriately. If he keeps repeating the same mistakes, that isn't learning.
The lineup and rotations remain the same, and he is doing nothing to fix it. In fact, he is pushing back against it.
The Raptors are a flawed roster that lost Fred VanVleet, but a team with Scottie Barnes and Pascal Siakam that won 41 games last season amid some wretched locker room vibes should not look this inept. The Raptors have trailed by at least ten points in each of their last ten games, showing their poor play at the beginning and end of games.
"He's a developmental coach," I hear you retort. Well, outside of Barnes, who else has taken a step in the right direction? Gradey Dick is in the G League, Gary Trent Jr. isn't as good as he was last year, and Precious Achiuwa has flatlined. The team is regressing, losing winnable game after winnable game.
Winning in the NBA is hard. It shouldn't look this hard. Rajakovic should be given the rest of the season to prove himself, but if the team doesn't turn it around, Ujiri may need to admit he made a mistake, wipe the slate clean, and start the new Barnes-centric era with a fresh face.