It has come to be known commonly within the Toronto Raptors circles as TankNation — a celebrated and deliberate approach to losing in order to be as bad as possible for the 2014 NBA Draft. Tank nation was supposed to be the Raptors’ mantra for the rest of the year following the Rudy Gay deal. Instead, the Raptors had crushed the dreams of many fans by actually playing good basketball — what a thought.
Implementing TankNation apparently is more difficult than it looks. With each passing game on the Raptors’ most recent west coast trip, the dinos were looking more and more like predator than prey in the weak Eastern conference. Never was this more evident than after watching Sunday night’s (Dec.22) dramatic come-from-behind 104-98 victory against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The win marked the end of the Thunder’s unbeaten streak at home this season and its nine-game winning streak. More importantly for Raptor fans, it marked the continued development of the dinos since the deal.
The team now sits at 4-2 since the Gay trade, clawing their way back into first place in the Atlantic division. Notwithstanding last night’s tough loss to the San Antonio Spurs, the Raptors are hot right now and the city of T.O knows it. So should GM Masai Ujiri let this hot streak ride out and see what this group is capable of? Or should Ujiri strike while the iron is hot and clear ship while many Raptors remain a hot commodity on the trade market?
On the one hand, to tank now would be to rip the collective hearts out of thousands of Raptor fans who have now seen the capabilities of this new bunch. Since the trade, the Raptors have had a tough schedule to date. This will ease up in the coming January month (comparatively speaking). In other words, Raptor Nation should expect more wins in the future if this recent play is any indicator of the team’s new capabilities.
On the other hand, as loyal as any Raptor fan may be it’s unlikely that many well informed fans seriously believe that this roster is anywhere near championship caliber as it currently stands. No team is beating the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers without having at least one superstar on the team; the Raptors don’t have a superstar.
So what to do then?
Despite the Raptors’ resiliency and toughness on their most recent west coast trip, expect Ujiri to be making some moves — and quickly. He will, as disheartening as it may sound to many, strike while the iron is hot and make some deals.
The trade value of many of the Raptors is as good as it’s going to get right now. Kyle Lowry definitely will be moved in the coming month, but that should come as no surprise to fans as his imminent move has been well documented. Amir Johnson is also very likely to be moved as he is playing the best basketball of his career so far and his trade value has never been higher. John Salmons is another veteran who could definitely be on the move. Salmons’ leadership and scoring pedigree off the bench is something many contending teams could use. Demar Derozan could conceivably be moved, but it seems less likely given his progression this season. For now, fans should expect the former three names to be moved within the coming weeks.
Ujiri, being as smart and skillful as he is, will make certain that he makes some deals before the light(er) schedule of the Eastern conference opponents, such as the New York Knicks (twice), Chicago Bulls, Brooklyn Nets, and Detroit Pistons rolls around in the coming weeks. Just imagine if the dinos were to have an above .500 record in a few weeks time only then to have the team dismantled before the country’s eyes. There would be an unbelievable backlash. Ujiri will make sure he doesn’t have this problem on his hands.
The Raptors’ recent play has been the talk of the town of late. Fans should revel in this moment for as long as possible as it seems unlikely that this resilient bunch will stick together for very long.
So no Raptor fans, the tank is not on hold. It’s still very much alive and well in Raptorland.