The Raptors reached the Eastern Conference Championship series for the first time in their history last year. Considering they were a Top 4 team, you would assume that their direction would mirror that of another Top 4 Toronto team, the Blue Jays. But that is entirely not the case. The Raptors actually face a similar decision as the Leafs do in whether they should sell some of their future for a championship push at this trade deadline (or off season) or to hold off and see if there is another, better window of opportunity. With Cleveland adding Kyle Korver fans are anxiously waiting to see how the Raptors respond and what their next move will be.
Unfortunately, the first half of this season has produced some unexpected results and it has made the decision even more complicated. I, myself have not only teetered on whether or not the Raptors should make a push, I even went so far at one point to think that getting DeMarcus Cousins was a great idea. Thankfully, I came back to my senses. So what has happened in these first 40 games to make me bounce around like that? Here’s a quick recap.
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) January 12, 2017
From the beginning I felt this year was going to be a little bit of a letdown as other teams improved (Boston, Atlanta) while the Raptors didn’t make any significant moves other than signing Jared Sullinger and drafting two rookie big men in the first round. On top of that, I didn’t expect much from DeMar DeRozan as most athletes tend to have a dip in performance after signing a huge contract. Finally, speaking of contracts, one tends to believe that most players in their contract year (aka Kyle Lowry) will play more for their own future than that of the teams. So it is with some surprise then that we see DeRozan have an incredible start to the season, Lowry playing within himself, the rookies making an impact earlier than expected and that has led to them having an even better record than they did at this point last year. This accomplishment is even more astounding when you consider the injured Sullinger hasn’t even played a minute and they already have completed two tours across the Western Conference. But not everything is rosy in Raptorland as their defence and rebounding have been extremely poor and that will go punished in the post season. They are also an alarming 0-8 against the top 5 teams in the league which makes you wonder just how big that gap really is. They will require a third all-star to join to their team and then hope it’s enough to compete with the Cavs and the Warriors.
The two names always associated with the Raptors when it comes to trade talks and that 3rd star are Demarcus Cousins and Paul Millsap. They make the most sense as the glaring need is at the power forward position where they never had a suitable stud since Chris Bosh. The weird situation that the Raptors find themselves in is that they “sort of” addressed that area of need in the offseason with the Sullinger signing. I say sort of because he isn’t an all-star but at the very least should be an upgrade in the rebounding area. The issue is the Ujiri and company will not have enough time to evaluate Sullinger properly before the February deadline.
So what should they do? The answer is simple. To compete with the best teams in the league, the Raptors need another superstar and I think that goes without saying, but the most important question to answer is… why rush? What made Masai a great GM in the past was that he has a great understanding of value. He will not overpay for players like Orlando did for Ibaka and he understands that the right fit is as important as the skill set. So if the right player doesn’t come along at the trade deadline, he isn’t going to make a trade for the sake of making a trade. If the right free agent isn’t available in the off season than he won’t go after him just for the sake of making a splash. Speaking of free agents, isn’t wonderful how no one seems worried at all about whether or not Lowry will resign here? It’s like a forgone conclusion. But getting back to my point, the Raptors are one of the youngest teams in the NBA and with their dynamic duo of Lowry (30 years old) and DeRozan (27), there is still a sizeable window to get the right player and still compete at the highest level. When that right player comes along, even if they may have to overpay for him, they certainly can because they have accrued a significant number of young, talented assets. So just sit back and enjoy the ride, as this window of opportunity has only begun.
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