With the NBA trade deadline fast approaching (Feb. 18th) the Toronto Raptors have a very important decision to make. Do they push their chips in the middle by mortgaging their future, whether it be draft picks, prospects or young players, to try and acquire another star player. Or do they stand pat and hope that this year’s team, presently constructed, works out – making it out of the first round of a seven game series (for the first time in team history) and hopefully well beyond.
Jeff Blair wrote a recent article on Sportsnet entitled “It’s Time to go all-in with these Raptors”. The name of the article could not have been more deceiving to me. To summarize the crux of the article, his idea of going “all-in” meant not trading DeMar DeRozan, and holding onto our so-called “core” pieces that have propelled us to second place in the Eastern Conference thus far. The same essential “core” that got swept in the first round of the playoffs last year, by the way. He writes:
“At some point, you grow up and commit and with a core of DeRozan, Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas, DeMarre Carroll and — yeah – Ross coming off the bench, you have a chance to position yourself for that elusive aligning of the planets.”
This is how losing teams think and operate – be risk averse, stay the course, disregard history and hope extraordinary luck (i.e. planet alignment) prevails. To me, going “all-in” for these Raptors means something a whole lot different than it does to Jeff Blair. This is a win now league and playoffs are a different beast than the regular season. We have two stars in the midst of their athletic prime and one (DeMar DeRozan) about to become a free agent. Going “all-in” doesn’t mean staying the course and hoping the planets align, it means bringing in real impactful talent to surround those stars to actually shift the balance of power in the Eastern Conference playoffs, luck notwithstanding.
I completely agree we shouldn’t trade DeRozan but keeping our “core” together is exactly the kind of thinking that will leave Raptors fans perpetually stuck in playoff mediocrity. Jeff Blair’s article is a microcosm of how the Raptors have been operating for what seems like forever. Our real core is Lowry and DeRozan, thats it. Jonas, Ross and Carroll will never be more than role players, in my opinion. They will most likely never make an All Star game or be truly impactful and reliable playoff assets.
The way you go “all in” is by keeping your star players while trying to swing a deal that gives up young talent/picks for stars or near stars. DeRozan is a free agent at the end of the season and may very well leave, despite what he tells the media and fans. Every team in the NBA with cap space will make a major pitch to him in the offseason and if we lose meekly in the playoffs once again, I see no reason why he would even want to stay. Thus, this could be our last year with those two all-stars together.
The Eastern Conference is up for grabs this year, with only one true juggernaut, but with the team we have now I still believe – despite our impressive record – we would lose a seven game series against the Chicago Bulls, Miami Heat, Atlanta Hawks and, of course, the Cleveland Cavaliers. The difference between the Raptors and those four teams is that they all have multiple stars or near stars as their core, while we have only two of that variety. The Cavaliers have three legitimate stars (Lebron, Love, Irving), the Hawks have three (Horford, Millsap, Teague), the Heat have four (Wade, Bosh, Dragic, Whiteside) and the Bulls have four (Rose, Butler, Gasol, Noah).
So, I agree with Jeff Blair that it’s time to go “all-in” this year, except I completely disagree with his definition of what going “all in” means. This team is successful because of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, everyone else, in my opinion, is expendable if you can get that third star or near star. Blair thinks Jonas Valanciunus, DeMarre Carroll, and Terrence Ross are part of a core that will produce a winning formula come playoff time – I strongly disagree. Our team thrived while Valanciunus and Carroll were injured, and Ross has been consistently inconsistent all season long.
Jonas is what he is. In his fourth NBA season, when young players, especially lottery picks, usually break out statistically, he is averaging a meager 12 points and 9 rebound with 1 block – decent, but not “core” piece material that’s propelling you to you to the Conference Finals or a Finals. Terrence Ross is averaging 9 points and 2 rebounds off the bench and shooting 37% from the arc – meh. DeMarre Carroll is a nice piece but we have been just fine without him and his presence doesn’t move the needle.
Going “all in” means recognizing your limitations, being honest about your so called “core” pieces, and trying like heck to add difference making talent for a deep playoff push. It means going after that third star to pair with Lowry and DeRozan. Without that thinking I guarantee this team will continue to disappoint in the playoffs (just look at last year and the year before as a blueprint).
While the title of Mr. Blair’s article is brimming with hope, his ultimate conclusion and analysis is how timid and small minded franchises operate. “Going all in” doesn’t mean staying the course and hoping for luck, it means recognizing your past, objectively assessing your “core” personnel, and trying to make a major move at the right time; and that time is most definitely NOW.
Tune in next week when I unveil the player/players that I would target in a trade and how I would pull it off, in order to turn the Toronto Raptors into a real contender in the Eastern Conference instead of a pretty good team with a hope and prayer.