Toronto Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri has a big ole choice to make right away in his new job – to tank, or not to tank? The Raps went 18-18 after the Rudy Gay trade in January, and while .500 is not much of an accomplishment for most franchises it is good enough to qualify for the NBA playoffs in the Eastern Conference. The Raps were last able to earn a playoff berth waaaay back in the 2007-08 season, and every other Eastern Conference team and fan-base has enjoyed a playoff experience since then except the Raps. I think he will ultimately choose to make a playoff run with this team, and this is why.
The most important point to make against tanking is the fact that the team with the worst record has won the Lottery to get the No.1 pick just three times in the 23 year Lottery history. Actually the second, third, and oddly fifth worst records have all won the Lottery more times than the biggest loser. No one in the Raps organization is related to Nick Gilbert so the likelihood of having unreal luck in the Lottery, which this time around means landing Canadian star Andrew Wiggins, seems uber unlikely. There’s massive upside to be sure, but tanking to try to get that No.1 pick is something that I consider massively troublesome with minuscule odds of it all working out.
The aftermath damage of the Bryan Colangelo era has marred the organization big-time. Any free-agents and any agents looking for a winning culture with a playoff roster look right past the Raps, and Ujiri knows luring talent to the T-Dot is an uphill battle. Toronto is a world-class city, but the Raptors organization has never stacked wins, especially lately. And that has put several teams ahead of them on the list of desirable NBA destinations and situations to choose from.
Most of the time a scenario of making the playoffs just for the sake of making the playoffs is not ideal. It takes you out of the Lottery, plus one-and-done playoff situations are not fun and do not often advance an organization forward. But the quicker the Raps can establish that they are a playoff team in the East from now going forward, the better.
Gay is a likely free-agent at season’s end so the Raps may want to show him that he can enjoy winning success here in Canada. Plus the 2013 summer is going to be even nuttier than the 2010 summer with unreal and unprecedented talent up for grabs. With or without Gay, the team will have some salary cap space after this season. That adds to me thinking that the time is now for Ujiri to establish the T-Dot as a place where legit players can come and win in addition to being a wonderful city to call home. For my money that means making a playoff run this season as the Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics, and Atlanta Hawks were all 2013 playoff teams who all have big potential to regress this season to the point where they are under .500 and out of the playoff picture. The Philadelphia 76ers were tied with the Raps for the No.9 seed this past season, and they too are very likely to take steps backwards in the 2013-14 campaign.
If there were better odds or more opportunities through trades etc. to win the Lottery then I would be willing to endure a tank season, but the odds are so long that I feel like the team really needs to establish themselves as a playoff contender which would allow them to show they are headed towards sustained winning. It would also give the fan-base a chance to get on the playoff stage to show how awesome they are which would create another good recruiting tool for Ujiri.