Toronto Raptors: To Tank, Or Not To Tank. Is That Even The Question?


Dec 20, 2013; Dallas, TX, USA; Toronto Raptors power forward

Amir Johnson

(bottom) celebrates with point guard

Kyle Lowry

(7) and shooting guard

DeMar DeRozan

(10) after defeating the Dallas Mavericks in overtime at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Raptors are leading the Atlantic division with a record of 12-15. Much has been written about the state of the division, and it seems that the Raptors have as good a chance as any to win, even with a losing record.

The realities of this Raptors team though, is not one as a (true) divsion leader, 45+ game winning club, or legitimate contender to win the championship. The roster is in flux and the fluidity of the current Raptors status is guided by General Manager Masai Ujiri.

In short order Ujiri has cleaved two onerous contracts, while making the team better by subtraction. Andrea Bargnani wasn’t going to work, and the league knew it. Yet Ujiri was able to get a first round draft pick (2016), two second’s (2014 and 2017), and Steve Novak after releasing Marcus Camby and Quentin Richardson.

Rudy Gay, a shot-taking black hole, was dealt for Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson, Chuck Hayes, and John Salmons. Not only did Ujiri get Toronto out from Gay’s contract, which included a player option for next season at 19 million, he hauled in four quality rotation players.

Feb 29, 2012; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets executive vice president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri talks before the start of the game against the Portland Trail Blazers at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Most notably in Vasquez, who came second to Indiana’s Paul George in voting for last season’s Most Improved Player award. His addition has made Kyle Lowry expendable, and the Raptors have already tried to deal him to the Knicks.

Yet with all these moves that have happened, and seemingly will happen, the Raptors are still on course to just make the playoffs.

Is that the goal, especially in the face of the vaunted 2014 draft? Can the Raptors make a meaningful jump up the standings and leap into being a contender with the core it has now? The GM sure doesn’t seem to think so.

The reality of life in the East is simple. Can you beat LBJ? It all boils down to that. Can your team take on Lebron and the Heat over a seven game series.

For most teams, the answer is no, and the Raptors are no different. Even so, understanding this issue, the East is so bad that the Raptors have a chance to not only make the playoffs, but win their division.

This brings me to my point. Even if Ujiri were to sell off Lowry, Derozan or any other player, the Raptors will still be even odds to make the playoffs. It would require a complete fire-sale for them to begin to approach the very dregs of the conference, and that won’t happen.

Ujiri is smart, he sees what is going on in the league and he knows that the Raptors won’t win the last game of the season. That is the real goal of any team, not being mediocre and switching continually between just missing the playoffs and just making them.

Dec 21, 2013; Lawrence, KS, USA; Kansas Jayhawks guard Andrew Wiggins (22) shoots the ball during the second half of the game against the Georgetown Hoyas at Allen Fieldhouse. Kansas won 86-64. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto will never be a first class destination for free agents, in spite of its status as a first class city. The only way to grow is through the draft and this draft in particular is key.

The top 5 spots will garner you one of Duke’s Jabari Parker, Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, Kentucky’s Julius Randle, or OSU’s Marcus Smart. These are franchise changing talents, and every team is salivating over them.

The Raptors, unfortunately, will not get any of them. GM’s across the league will not be giving up draft picks easily, and any team that is already scrapping the bottom, like the Bucks and Jazz, will be in no hurry to get better, or trade their pick.

The Raptors are on a run right now, with a record of 6-2 since the Rudy Gay trade. The roster is switched from an iso focused team to a ball swinging team that strives for open looks. Jonas Valanciunas is one of the most intriguing big men in the NBA. Demar Derozan is putting up career numbers. Kyle Lowry is showing to be a steady hand.

The team has talent, but it doesn’t have enough.This team is playing harder, better, and with more cohesion, and any moves made will not likely change that.

Coach Dwane Casey is in the last year of his contract, and at the very least, wants to win to show other teams that he got his team to compete. Yet every game the Raptors win, is one more nail in the tanking coffin. So the question is not whether to tank, it is whether the Raptors can even tank badly enough to make a difference.