Where do I begin?
No, seriously. Help me. Where do I begin?
After all the goodwill the Raptors have made on their City with their hard playing, never-say-die attitude for most of the past 12 months, they laid down a lack-of-heart effort during Game 4 vs. Washington. It was to the point where some Wizards players were laughing, taunting, & trolling the Raps both on or off the court. They also let Paul Pierce’s “It” statement seem prophetic, which was only worsened by Paul’s continuous dagger 3s throughout the series. Don’t forget, Bradley Beal not only played some of his best basketball, but he turned Kyle Lowry into the little stepbrother than he hates, cussing him out every chance their parents turned their backs. Getting swept is never good obviously, but going out the way they did is way worse. When Boston and New Orleans got swept, you could tell they gave it everything they had, but they just weren’t as good or talented enough to beat Cleveland and Golden St. respectively. This was bad. A really bad series for the Raptors. It opened your eyes as to who this team really is.
Now, I let a few days breeze by before I offered this response. I know everyone is disgusted with the Raps, from the biggest basketball lover to the most inconsistent casual fan. Believe me, every Raptor fan has that right. Personally, I stopped watching the series with any consistency after halftime of Game 2, where the Wizards were up 11 at halftime. I pretty much knew at that moment, that the Wizards were going to go up 2-0, and unless Toronto did a 180-degree on their performance, they were not going to win four out of the next five games to win the series. In my mind, the series was already decided. I initially picked the Raps to win in seven, mostly because I was hoping that the team that started the season 24-8, would reappear, instead of the team that ended the season 25-25, & has consistently been mediocre since Jan. 1st. Basically, it was the equivalent of thinking with your heart, and not your head…. and I got played. I would like to be like everyone else & start the movement of blowing up the team, but I won’t do that. Honestly, it’s going to be a very interesting off-season for the Raps, but I don’t think blowing it up completely is the way to go. Here are some reasons why:
- You can’t blow up a team that won the division handily in back-to-back seasons. Even if the division is as shitty as the Atlantic division is right now. It’s hard to go into rebuilding mode after the team has won 48 & 49 games the past two years. If anything, you retool. After the way the team collapsed in the playoffs, I think you definitely have to explore the option of finding another coach. Dwayne Casey is one of those coaches that you build with when you’re at the bottom, but I’m not 100% sure he can take you over the top. We can look at Scott Brooks as an available candidate, but I always felt he’s in that Casey mold: good, but not great. His players at OKC were unreal & that pushed his career further along than anyone expected. Plus, I can see him in contention for the intriguing Orlando coaching vacancy (OKC familiarity/ties with GM Rob Hennigan + young solid assets). Someone who I would be looking at is Mark Jackson. Jackson of course has history with the organization (albeit a short one) playing for the Raps in the 2000-01 season before he got traded to the New York Knicks. Moreover, Jackson provides that confidence boost in his stars (ie. Steph Curry, Klay Thompson) & adds that overall mental toughness that this team lacked during the last three plus months. Maybe they can throw extra money at him to rest his head, after he spends two weeks in June announcing the NBA Finals, where his former team that just fired him 12 months prior, wins it all right in front of his face…. potentially.
- Raps can’t rebuild, not with this #WeTheNorth movement growing faster by the day. It may sound dumb, but man…… there was a lot of time, money, promoting, marketing, and merch spent, sold, and invested on this #WeTheNorth movement thing. You can say, “Who cares?! Scrap the whole thing!” if you want to, but the fact remains, this is the best promotional branding push in the history of this franchise. The #WeTheNorth idea is cool, unique, it reps the city, and allows for the rest of the country to get in on the fun. The younger generation has engulfed themselves in it, to the point of wearing the merch like a flag. It’s one of the best trend-setting things the Raps have done, period. The new path of branding is real, but harder to sell if the team is going back to winning 30 games a season. Now, are some people looking at their #WeTheNorth Tees and fitteds sideways after what they saw these last four games? Certainly, but as long as they continue to play hard, improve, and present a quality product each and every night on the floor, they will still stay with the movement.
- Toronto is hosting the All Star Game in less than 10 months. We want the rest of the basketball world to take us seriously, right? Do you really want them looking at a losing, starting-from-the-bottom franchise again, while they are stealing every available groupie walking in the downtown core in February 2016? The moves that have been made (including a new practice facility currently being built) is showing that the franchise are ready to take the steps to change the perception that they aren’t anything but a world class organization, especially regarding future free agents. It’s a process, and it will take time, but showing another era of a rebuild is not the way to go, and they won’t go that route.
With everything being said, “the sweep” did take the shine off this season somewhat, and left a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths, including Raps management, that’s for sure. However, there were some good things that did happen throughout the season. They officially have an All-star backcourt in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, a developing big man in Jonas Valencuinas (who is still waiting to get major minutes), and Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams as a solid scorer off the bench (IF he resigns). They also won a franchise record 49 wins, which was one game better that their record last year (shoulder shrug?). However, they need to get a big man that can score around the basket consistently in a serious way (like a David West type), and some veterans that can make a real impact on and off the floor. As much as not resigning fan favorite Amir Johnson would hurt, Toronto will get over it if it meant challenging for the conference Finals &/or the Finals each season with a tough, scoring big. Easier said than done for sure, but somehow, some way, Raps GM Masai Ujiri has to figure out a way to improve the team. This playoff disappointment put the team at a bit of a crossroads, but it is not dire. One thing we know for sure, they cannot come back with this same roster intact. Not only will Atlanta, Cleveland, and Chicago still be around, Washington will also be there ready to slap the Raps down again. Milwaukee will be improved with Jabari Parker back in the fold and Giannis Antetokounmpo will be another year improved; Indiana will have Paul George at 100% optimal health (and was looking pretty good in limited minutes when he came back); Miami will be rested, healthy, and loaded once they resign Goran Dragic; depending on who the Knicks get in Free Agency + their top lottery pick (ie. Jahlil Okafor possibly), they could get right back into the swing of things. Even young teams like Orlando (with the right coaching hire) and Philly (depending on how you feel about Joel Embiid) could be much improved from this season. The East isn’t good right now, but it will get better as quickly as next year. The Raps management will have to figure out what has to be done, or else the momentum they have built since that Rudy Gay trade will cease, and they go back to fighting the Maple Leafs, FC, and Blue Jays for the crown to be the Kings of Mediocrity all over again.
Cal Cee // South Shore Ave
To subscribe to The Baseline Blog, click onto the Follow button or by entering your email address.