Over the years, if there was one trademark that the Toronto Raptors always seemed to hold tightly it was their ability to blow commanding leads and let opponents that seemed defeated storm back to steal a game that they had no business scratching into the win column. With the debacle that was witnessed against the Golden State Warriors on December 3, 2013, a game that just might go down as the permanent stain forever to remain front and center on the franchise’s tapestry of accomplishments and shortcomings, Raptors’ fans knew deep down inside that change was approaching fast.
With the departure of Rudy Gay to the Sacramento Kings, the first domino has officially fallen and boy was it a tough one to knock down. Although Gay will always hold the kind of perimeter talents that the franchise has witnessed exactly once since their inaugural season in 1995, all it really took was dedicating oneself to watching even a week’s worth of Raptors games to see that the Bryan Colangelo Hail Mary was going to fall about ten yards short of the end zone.
Although the presence of a ball dominant, dynamic perimeter talent seems less a potential formula for winning and more a necessity in today’s NBA, one could readily see that there was a stark difference between what players like Carmelo Anthony, Paul George and LeBron James brought from the position and what Gay did once you averaged out his performances in the jersey of Canada’s only NBA franchise. In Gay, the Raptors had a player that could match the elite punch for punch on some nights, yet like the culture of the franchise itself over the past 18 seasons, he embodied and personified the team’s culture of playing up to superior opponents and yet disappearing against everyone else.
At the end of the day, the culture that Gay’s presence further strengthened during his short stint with the team simply wasn’t the right direction to continue on moving forward. Furthermore, with Demar Derozan having suffered through enough psychologically that anything short of a one way ticket out of Toronto probably doesn’t whip away the mediocrity he’s been buried in over the past four and a half seasons, selling on the fifth year shooting guard might be the Raptors’ best move going forward. Similarly, with the combination of skill, tenacity and attitude that will surely have playoff teams lining up for his services, Kyle Lowry seems all but destined to be another ex-Raptor sooner rather than later.
In order for the Raptors to truly rebuild this franchise from the very first broken dirt of the Air Canada Center and establish a bright future going forward for a team that has been sitting alone in the dark for years now, the organization must move on from every last semblance of the past. Only once every shred of personnel tied to a less than flattering decade has been cleared out can the healing and growth of this franchise finally begin.
In the duo, the Raptors possess a tough decision in regards to moving on from two players that one could very well picture helping the team return to the playoffs just as readily as the mind could picture their faces pasted all over an ESPN trade report update. After nearly two decades of the unflattering consistent status as an NBA bottom dweller, many will hesitate in jumping the wagon and doing the unthinkable by cheering for every opposing clutch bucket to bring the franchise one step closer to potentially finding their anchor for the next 15 years. More importantly, with dysfunction made all too common since Lowry’s arrival along with the poor defensive effort by Derozan that the team undoubtedly will claw and scratch to get away from, the time for both to leave town might finally have arrived.
With no shortage of interest around the league for the talented guards, there should be zero doubt that the phones will be ringing furiously in the coming weeks and months. At that point, the lone question left to be answered will be the one regarding just how much regression Masai Ujiri is willing to push the Raptors through and how far back into mediocrity he is comfortable with bringing the franchise for the long term greater good.
It will be a tough road ahead for the organization. Let’s just hope the ends will justify the means.