Raptors

Unfamiliar Land Left Raptors in Unfamiliar Waters

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Simply put– it’s been the most topsy-turvy season in Toronto Raptors franchise history.

And maybe, unlike any other in league history. But that is a subject for another day. Today, we are going to look at the events that happened within this Raptors team’s control (and everything out of it) and how that has brought the Raptors to where they are right now. 

HOW THE CHIPS FELL

This year, the Raptors had the league’s most double-edged sword. They play for a respected organization led by one of the most respected men in the NBA, Masai Ujiri. They have an entire country as their fan base. And playing in the fourth-largest TV market in North America equals prime (or should I say primo?) levels of exposure as a pro athlete.

This season was different, however. It wasn’t your hum-drum normal basketball-related stuff. Or the typical “weather is too cold in Toronto” stuff. This season was filled with concerns about player health, and franchise-altering decisions.

The team faced serious rumors about the futures of the aforementioned Ujiri, Toronto’s President of Basketball Operations, and team leader Kyle Lowry. And the team’s fan base was nowhere to be found because the team was LITERALLY banned from playing in Canada. They had to resort to playing games in the Amalie Arena, home of the Tampa Bay Lightning NHL hockey team.

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Regardless, those Canada-sized winning expectations remained.

But from the get-go, this team was constantly caught between conflicting basketball team building ideologies. To tank or not to tank? The Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol free-agency departures left holes in the front court the size of…well…Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol. After the team started the season 2-8, the first wave of screams from the fan base to “blow it up” began to ring in. Those chants continued until this team found its footing and eventually reached the .500 mark with a 17-17 record.

Then, in a year like no other, the inevitable happened. And no, I don’t mean Raptors assistant coach Chris Finch taking the Minnesota Timberwolves head coaching job mid-season.

COVID-19 REARS ITS UGLY HEAD

There is no sugar-coating it. Covid-19 hit this team like an earthquake at the least-opportune time (if such a thing exists). Raptors starters Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby missed five, six and six games, respectively. Role players Patrick McCaw and Malachi Flynn also missed five games each during the same period.

Five or six games may not sound like much, but it clearly took much longer till VanVleet and Siakam returned to game shape. Following the rash of diagnosis’, the team won only a single game in March.

Despite an ugly month of basketball, the team still battled to reach the play-in tournament. The front office still believed this team had a fighting chance. Evidenced by their decision not to trade Lowry at the deadline despite an 18-27 record at the time.

It’s become painstakingly clear now, however, that the front office has now changed course. Since the middle of April, players have been listed on the injury report under “rest” or some mysterious injury. Take this exchange Raptors head coach Nick Nurse had with the media as evidence:

The head coach didn’t ask? Come on.

Resting Lowry against the Washington Wizards on May 6 took things to another level. In the most important game of the season, the team chose to rest its best player. The fact that the Raptors lost that game by two points in overtime was just salt in the wound.

Four days later, the Raptors were officially eliminated from playoff contention, leaving one thing left to do: evaluate the future.

LOOKING AHEAD

This team has a great group of guys. Young, talented and most importantly, hungry for success. But this season has put up a few too many barriers for almost any team to meet expectations. Now Masai and Bobby may get the luxury they’ve been searching for all these years– a high pick in a draft full of difference-makers (in fairness we did nab Jakob Poeltl at No. 9 in 2016).

With Norman Powell being shipped out, the Raptors will likely try to re-sign Gary Trent Jr. when he hits restricted free agency. Kyle Lowry’s future remains murkier. The decision to tank and the addition of Trent Jr. suggests a youth movement– but we will have to wait and see.

At least we can say that we made it through a Raptors season like no other. And we can say this franchise, its players, and its fans handled it with as much class as anyone could reasonably expect.

That alone is cause for celebration.

Follow us on Twitter @RaptorsLead for the latest Raptors news and insight. 

About Trevor David

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