Let’s be frank and open from the start. The Raptors are going to struggle to win games this season. That does not mean they can’t compete in games, but they simply lack the talent up and down their roster to make a deep run into the playoffs. Don’t get me wrong, I would be ecstatic if this team were able to win enough games to make the playoffs, though I really do not see that happening as things stand now.
Please don’t confuse my perspective as being pessimistic; I see it more as a realistic view. But with the improvements of the other teams in the East, namely Miami, Chicago, Milwaukee, New York, Washington, and New Jersey, it seems like a tall order at this point. Not to mention that Boston, Orlando, Atlanta and Charlotte all made the playoffs last season and, at this point, are each at least as good as last season except for maybe Charlotte.
To what end if the Raptors do become a playoff team? Does that help or hurt them for next year? This team will learn from playoff experience, no doubt, but let’s face it. This team is rebuilding. So what are we getting? A trip to the lottery or the playoffs? Let’s take a look.
The argument, in my mind, is that it makes the most sense for the Raptors to work at competing with their core group of players that should include DeRozan, Ed Davis, and Andrea Bargnani (Bargnani’s inclusion on this list is almost completely dependent on what he’s able to do this season). That group can be extended to include Linas Kleiza and Amir Johnson at least for the next couple of seasons, and hopefully a continually improving Sonny Weems if he can be re-signed. This means that Calderon, Jarrett Jack, Reggie Evans, Marcus Banks, and Julian Wright are probably not a part of any long-term plans. Although, Wright and Jack have the most to offer this team as they move forward.
For this team to move forward with a goal of competing for a title – I know it sounds absurd now but that has to be every teams ultimate goal whether it’s a 3-year or 5-year goal – they have to develop this core group together. The best example is what Sam Presti has done with the OKC Thunder (sorry Seattle fans). He has taken a group of players that are their team’s young core and allowed them to continue to improve together and now they are the envy of the league and a team that could conceivably do some damage in the playoffs this season. Yes, OKC has Kevin Durant who is one of the top 5 players in the league, but the model is what the Raptors need to be as the basis for their plans.
Ultimately, another trip to the lottery is not going to kill this team. I think if playing time is given to the core players and they are allowed to make mistakes and learn from them this team will be moving in the right direction. Maybe they could make the playoffs by following this plan, but it is unlikely. Plus, who knows what type of player can be added in this year’s draft; maybe a point guard, maybe a dominant big, or a go to scorer. Remember high picks can translate to trades for established player too. Nevertheless, it’s time to work this group into one that can win as soon as possible, and losing now, though it’s not fun for the players or fans, may be the best way to learn how to win later.