There is one predicament that every NBA team tries desperately to avoid — not good enough to win a championship— not bad enough to land a franchise player in the draft. The scariest thought of this very notion is building up a team for a half decade (or longer) just to get hit with the undeniable reality of the situation. In today’s NBA, there is one team that although it’s sad to admit, fits the bill completely — the Toronto Raptors.
The Raptors have essentially been building toward this moment (59 wins, No. 1 ranked Eastern Conference team) since they drafted star shooting guard DeMar DeRozan with the ninth pick in the 2009 NBA draft. In 2010, the Raptors hired Masai Ujiri as their General Manager, followed by Dwayne Casey taking the reigns as Head Coach in 2011. The final piece to the puzzle was solidified when point guard Kyle Lowry joined the team in 2012.
The core of Ujiri, Casey, DeRozan, and Lowry is now a six-year commitment, and although they have produced exceptional regular-season records and a new level of excitement in Toronto, they simply aren’t good enough to beat LeBron James and the not-so-talented Cleveland Cavaliers.
In years past it was acceptable to make excuses for the Raptors. A Cavaliers team with point guard Kyrie Irving and James were far too explosive for any team in the East to compete with. However, it’s different now. James, coming off another phenomenal individual season, struggled more so than years past to motivate his teammates. Combine that with the fact, Cleveland went to seven games with an average Indiana Pacers team, and it’s evident this Cavaliers crew is no longer the overwhelmingly dominant boogeyman of the East.
And yet, Toronto not only was defeated, they were swept and embarrassed twice in the four-game series. In the last three seasons, LeBron and the Cavaliers have been victorious in 12 of 14 matches against Toronto. Even so, this season was supposed to be different. A 59-win juggernaut — the only team in the NBA ranked top five in offensive and defensive statistics — the most balanced team in the association.
Or so we thought.
Although Raptors were commuted on a six-year mission or really since the day DeRozan dawned the Toronto Raptors Jersey across his chest, it’s simply not worth keeping this unit together much longer when in all likelihoods, the result will be the same next year. If you combine that with the fact as James gets older, the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers have a conglomerate of highly talented young athletes who surpass the potential of DeRozan or Lowry.
In DeRozan’s post-game interview following the conclusion of the series, the $139 million-dollar man sounded like a someone who was defeated, tired and unsure about the Raptors future.
“My nine years of being in the league, this is probably the toughest, most frustrating, difficult, lowest feeling I’ve had,” DeRozan told reporters during his end of the year press conference in Toronto.
Even with great uncertainty in the air, I guarantee the Raptors will not take the smart route of blowing the roster up and netting valuable draft picks and young players in deals for DeRozan and Lowry. Instead, they will keep this core together and run into the same fate as they did this year. Something needs to change in Toronto and the removal of Casey as head coach Saturday is more of a scapegoat situation that will not change much moving forward.
My guess is they won’t trade either of their “franchise players” and if that’s so, then they deserve to keep falling short of expectations.