The Toronto Raptors lost 112–98 to the Denver Nuggets on Sunday, shrinking their lead atop the Atlantic Division to just half a game.
That’s right, if you haven’t been paying attention the Toronto Raptors, who are 6–10, currently sit in first place in the Atlantic. They’ve even lost three in a row and are still in first place in the Atlantic.
Under NBA rules, the three division winners must be in the top four seeds, so if the playoffs were today the Raptors would face the 8-9 Washington Wizards and have home court advantage. That’s how bad the NBA’s Eastern Conference is.
Now I have a crazy thought, what if the Raptors go for it?
They were expected to possibly contend for a lottery pick and to miss the playoffs yet again. Since then the 3-13 New York Knicks and 5-12 Brooklyn Nets have face planted, leaving the Atlantic Division wide open.
The Celtics, who are half a game behind the Raptors, may or may not trade Rajon Rondo and get even worse which leaves only the 76ers near the Raptors.
Now eventually the Nets and Knicks will remember how to play basketball, but by then it could be too late.
The Raptors have been in perpetual rebuilding mode. Maybe it’s time to become a buyer and try to make the playoffs.
The knock against that idea is that if you don’t win the Atlantic, you’re probably not getting in. If the Raptors weren’t in the Atlantic or if divisional winners didn’t matter, they’d be tied for eighth with the Orlando Magic.
Nobody wants to be the eighth seed and get swept by the Pacers or Heat. However the talent drop off is incredibly steep in the east, which means a fourth place finish and home court advantage could produce something Toronto hasn’t seen in a long, long time. The second round of the playoffs.
Outside of the Argos, no major Toronto franchise has made the second round of the playoffs in a decade.
The Raptors have made the second round once, back in 2000-01. Since then only the Toronto Maple Leafs have made the second round and they haven’t done it since 2003-04.
It would also be notable as only the second division title in Raptors history, having previously won the Atlantic in 2007.
Clearly the Raptors are too good to tank, but not nearly good enough to actually contend. But wouldn’t the playoffs in general and the possibility of the second round be worth it? There are other teams in full rebuilding mode that could use players and picks the Raptors could provide.
What would the Raptors look like if they landed Rajon Rondo? The Celtics look ready to deal and a package of players and picks could send Rondo to the Raps. Rondo is under contract through next season and the Raptors would be the only team able to offer him a max deal.
The Celtics are clearing cap space, so Rudy Gay’s enormous contract could head there along with point guard Kyle Lowry.
Could you build a future around Rondo, Valanciunas, Johnson and DeRozan? I think you could.
More importantly though, it may give fans something they’ve wanted since Vince Carter was shipped out of town – a playoff team that can get out of the first round.