Toronto Raptors: Time to look ahead to next season

With just 17 games remaining in their season, it’s time for the Toronto Raptors to start looking ahead to the off-season.

A combination of factors have contributed to the Raptors slumping to a surprisingly poor 21-34 record ahead of their tilt with the San Antonio Spurs, and as each game passes the chances of them making the post-season fades.

Injuries and bouts with the Coronavirus have decimated the Raptors at various points of the season, including at the time of writing. Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam and now even Gary Trent Jr. have dealt with, or are currently, some form of ailment that has hampered the chances of the team.

The Raptors now have a very slim chance of making the play-ins, with an even slimmer chance of progressing beyond that and into the playoffs-proper, leaving them with a very tough decision to make as the 2020/21 season begins to wind down.

Winning is the ultimate goal in any given sports season, and with the Toronto Raptors having earned their first-ever NBA Championship just two seasons ago, that should be even more important for this team.

But with multiple factors having such an adverse effect on the team, leading to a number of poor on-court performances and a threadbare roster to work with, perhaps the more realistic and beneficial move would be to start preparing for the 2021-22 season instead.

Write this season off as an outlier to what has been a very strong series of years, with division titles aplenty included among the truly memorable 2019 run, and start focusing on returning to what this team could potentially be.

The Raptors still have a solid core to build around with VanVleet, Siakam and OG Anunoby, with a bright future ahead for Trent Jr and Malachi Flynn – both of whom could become cornerstone pieces to Nick Nurse’s team moving forward.

Lowry’s future will be decided one way or the other in the summer, though there could be plenty of reasons for him to return on another one-year deal, seeing the potential a fully healthy, and slightly retooled, roster could accomplish in Toronto – depending on how the team’s cap situation plays out.

Of course, the biggest area for the team to address in the off-season is at the centre position, with the recent free agent signings of Freddie Gillespie and Khem Birch little more than depth additions during a difficult period.

Targeting a top free agent, or even exploring the trade market for an impact centre that can replace Aron Baynes as a full-time starter should be a top priority.

If the backroom staff, and hierarchy, adjust their focus from this season to the summer, it would give them a jumpstart on preparing for a season that could be far more competitive.

Another potential benefit to focusing on next season, would be giving the current roster a longer time to recuperate, rest and prepare once the regular season is done – with an extended post-season series likely to pile onto a difficult health situation with the team.

Of course, one of the biggest benefits to effectively throwing in the towel on this current season would be the higher-quality prospect that could be available to the Toronto Raptors when they are on the clock at the 2021 NBA Draft.

A top-ten pick is currently guaranteed with the Raptors’ current record, but landing a lottery pick or even moving up into the top-five would give the team more flexibility and options when they make their selection – especially with a further two picks to be made in the second round.

There are plenty of reasons why the Toronto Raptors should consider giving up on this season, with plenty of potential for a significantly improved campaign next time around possible if the right decisions are made before, and even after, the end of the regular season.