Thanks largely in part to Demar Derozan‘s 33 point outburst and Rudy Gay‘s solid overall game (18 points, eight rebounds and eight assists), the Toronto Raptors were able to defeat the young and surprising Philadelphia 76ers in their most recent game. With the win, the Raptors moved to first place in the Atlantic Division, and even further into the current dilemma the franchise finds themselves in.
Sure, the Raptors are first place in the Atlantic division. Sure, Derozan and Gay are proving to be a formidable backcourt for the Raptors early on. Sure, the Raptors might even make the playoffs for the first time in over five years. But ultimately, it all means nothing.
The Raptors have the advantage (or disadvantage, as I see it) of playing in the Atlantic division, which is downright awful. At 5-7, the Raptors have the worst record of any division leading team in the NBA, and it’s not even close (second worst is the Los Angeles Clippers at 8-4). With lottery bound teams, such as the 76ers and the Boston Celtics, along with the expected debacle that is Jason Kidd as the bench boss in the swampland, I can’t really see the Raptors being challenged by any team in their conference other than the New York Knicks.
Let this be clear, this is all bad news, Raptors fans.
I get it though. The city of Toronto is desperate for winners. With the Toronto Maple Leafs finally experiencing some success again, and the putrid season that the stacked Toronto Bluejays‘ roster were able to string together, the pressure is mounting on the Raptors to finally come up with some wins, especially considering their current roster (which is quite respectable).
Yet, it shouldn’t be.
Even if the Raptors are to qualify for the playoffs and excite Raptor nation like the good old Vince-sanity days, it will all be in vain. Derozan and Gay cannot be your two best players if you are to go anywhere in the NBA — simple as that. They are complementary pieces on contending teams, not focal pieces. Trade them.
The Raptors’ current success puts their general manager, the savvy Masai Uijiri, in quite the conundrum. On the one hand, Raptors fans are in desperate need of a meaningful team to cheer for and are tired of the dreaded “rebuilding process” they have heard all too often. On the other hand, if they are to make a push with this current roster, they’ll never seriously challenge the likes of the Indiana Pacers, Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls, respectively. Coupled with the fact that the Raptor franchise is notorious for having to overpay free agents (for example, Hedo Turkoglu and Amir Johnson) just to come to play in Canada, you’re left with a team that is simply spinning its wheels. Similar to the Joe Johnson led Atlanta Hawks from a few years back, the Raptors would make the playoffs, win a few games, and then be on their way to vacation faster than Rob Ford to an all you can eat buffet.
With the immense talent that is likely to come through the NBA draft come June, along with potentially receiving some draft picks and young prospects via a Gay and Derozan trade, the franchise’s fortune could take a turn for the better in the future — a lot better than the early first round exit they currently stand at for the foreseeable future.