Toronto Raptors Fans Shouldn’t Fear the Deer, they Should Fear Mediocrity

Apr 20, 2017; Milwaukee, WI, USA; The Toronto Raptors watch the game in the closing minutes as the Raptors lost to the Milwaukeee Bucks 104-77 in game three of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 20, 2017; Milwaukee, WI, USA; The Toronto Raptors watch the game in the closing minutes as the Raptors lost to the Milwaukeee Bucks 104-77 in game three of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports /

The Toronto Raptors blowout loss to the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 3 not only forces the team to take a hard look in the mirror, it also raises questions about their long-term outlook.

Here we are again, Toronto Raptors fans. The team is struggling in the first round of the playoffs and things are starting to look bleak. I know the series isn’t over and things can turn around in a hurry, but, man, the combination of two blowout losses in three games and a roster riddled with players who look dejected, at least based on their body language, does not inspire confidence.

Let’s face it, even if the Raptors get past the Bucks, they’re going to have to defeat the Cleveland Cavaliers in round two before anyone starts to actually believe in this team. Yes, winning a first round series is nice and all, but the Raptors are past that point in their organizational development.

General manager Masai Ujiri made that clear this past trade deadline when he acquired Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker. Those two moves were not only a sign the Raptors were “all in,” it was a sign this franchise is ready to take the next step. You know, the step where expectations are no longer just getting out of the first round. No, the expectation now is to reach the Eastern Conference finals, or, at the very least, challenge LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

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The problem with this expectation is that when you don’t meet it, serious questions are raised. For Toronto, those serious questions not only pertain to their roster, which will see key pieces like Kyle Lowry, Patrick Patterson, Ibaka and Tucker hit the open market this offseason, but also to their idea of success.

“What is success?” is a question the Raptors haven’t truly had to answer until this year. With DeMar DeRozan, a franchise player, firmly entrenched with this organization for the next five seasons, and an abundance of young up-and-coming prospects, the Raptors have a gargantuan decision to make this offseason and that’s figuring out what exactly “success” is to them.

Is it making the postseason every year? Is it being competitive in the regular season? Or is it competing for the Larry O’Brien trophy? You would hope it’s competing for an NBA title, but what if this core is tapped out and upper management doesn’t want to move on? Or, perhaps worse, what if upper management believes success is posting a great regular season record each year and just making the playoffs?

Either one of those scenarios would likely involve bringing this entire core back next season and attempting to take another run at winning the Eastern Conference. There is a cautionary example with this approach, however.

That example is the Los Angeles Clippers. Each year pundits and fans fall victim to saying, “this is the Clippers year!” All the talent is in place for the Clippers to get over the hump, but, for whatever reason, they come up short every postseason. Despite their inability to progress, though, the Clippers’ core remains intact and they continue to get the same results year after year, after year.

Toronto Raptors
Toronto Raptors /

Toronto Raptors

Maybe posting a great regular season record, followed by a playoff series or two, is success for the Clippers. If it is, great. But is that what the Raptors want to emulate themselves after? A core who carries around the narrative of not being able to get it done in the postseason? Sure, the playoff revenue is great and both teams are fun to watch, but I think it’s safe to say both fan bases are craving more.

Of course, the hard part is trying to figure out how to achieve more and who to bring in to improve your roster. Perhaps it’s a coaching change? Maybe it’s moving on from Lowry this offseason? Maybe it’s a major trade? Either way, something has to change for the Raptors because what they’re doing right now isn’t working.

The organization is 6-22 on the road during the postseason and we’ve now seen the Raptors struggle in back-to-back playoffs. With Toronto being a major market, the abyss of NBA mediocrity teams like the Memphis Grizzlies, Atlanta Hawks and Detroit Pistons find themselves in should not be an option for the Raptors. But if your main goal is to compete for a title, what’s the difference between the Clippers, Raptors, Grizzlies and Hawks? Outside of regular season wins and the odd playoff series or two, not a whole lot.

It might sound like a hollow argument at first, especially since the Clippers and Raptors are major market teams who boast a ton of talent, but if you continuously do the same things over and over again, how can you seriously expect to get a different result? In other words, the Clippers are what they are at this point and unless they strike lightning in a bottle, it seems unlikely they’ll be able to defeat the Warriors and advance to an NBA Final. For the Raptors, if this team can’t beat the Bucks, do you truly feel confident in them to beat the Cavs? Probably not.

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This leads us back to the question of “what’s success for the Raptors?” If it’s just about making the postseason each year and being competitive, then, yes, maintain the status quo. But if it’s truly about hoisting a Larry O’Brien trophy over their heads as they parade down Yonge street, something has to change or else this team will fall into the abyss of NBA mediocrity where your draft picks are late, your playoff exits are early and your potential is unfulfilled. Now is that something you might be interested in? I didn’t think so either.