The first 20 games of the season will send the Toronto Raptors down one of three potential paths regarding the team’s future.
Entering the 2013-14 season, it’s unclear as ever where the Raptors stand as a franchise. Are they a rebuilding team? Are they a playoff team? Or are they still a team that falls in the awful position of not being good enough to make the playoffs, but not bad enough to earn a top lottery pick. General Manager Masai Ujiri will use the first 20 games of the season to decide which of the following three paths the team will head down.
If the team struggles and gets off to a 7-13 start or worse, expect the Raptors to wave the white flag early in their season. With Toronto hosting the 2016 All-Star Game, the Raptors are under heavy pressure to produce a respectable team come that time. The 2015-16 season will be the 20th anniversary of the franchise and if they can’t at least show the fans the future is bright, then the entire event will be a disaster from a public relations point of view.
The 2016 All-Star Game itself will be as glamorous as any other year. However, for the event to truly capture the attention of a hockey-crazed city like Toronto, the Raptors must be a competitive team. The only way to properly produce a competitive team would be start rebuilding as soon as possible.
If the Raptors manage to begin the year hovering around the .500 mark through their first 20 contests, the team will likely refrain from making any significant roster changes. After the top-four teams in the Eastern Conference, the remaining four playoff positions appear as open as ever. Determining which teams will finish between fifth and eighth in the conference is like trying to predict winning lottery numbers.
This puts Toronto in a difficult situation because if they don’t make the playoffs and don’t attempt to move current players for future assets, it could significantly slowdown any potential rebuild. However, if they run the table and make the playoffs, even if it’s a seventh or eighth seed followed by a first round exit, Raptor fans will probably consider it a success. Regardless, proving to be a mediocre club is the worst thing that could happen to Toronto after the first 20 games of the season as it makes any decision on the team’s future that much more difficult for Ujiri.
Should the Raptors miraculously start off the year with a record of 13-7 or better, it’ll likely mean the team has proven it has a solid core in place moving forward. A hot start to the season could certainly disguise the team as being something it isn’t. However, in the event the players show they can hang with the best teams in the conference, additions to the roster could be made. If key players such as Rudy Gay, DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas prove they are the right nucleus to build the team around moving forward, look for Ujiri to potentially move assets to further strengthen the squad prior to the trade deadline.
It’s unclear as ever what the future holds for the Raptors entering the 2013-14 season. However, the one thing that is clear is that the general manager will know what path to take his team down after the first 20 games of the year.