The HQ got their wish. The Toronto Raptors ended their season with a win last night over the New York Knicks, but the Chicago Bulls grabbed the final playoff spot in the East by thrashing the Charlotte Bobcats. As a result, it's back to the NBA Draft Lottery for the Dinos, a place the HQ argues Toronto is best suited for, rather than being led to slaughter at the hands of the Cavs.
Is this the most disappointing season in the history of the Toronto Raptors franchise?
As the clock wound down on the 2009-10 NBA regular season last night, this question bounced through my head.
Sure there are seasons with worse records, seasons with failed expectations, and of course, the Kevin O'Neill era. But can any others top this one in terms of its roller-coaster ride; one that started with an eye on not only a return to the playoffs, but also possibly a spot in the Eastern Conference semi-finals and finished with a complete miss of the dance?
I'm not sure.
But what I do know is that this morning, a large portion of Raptors' fans woke up feeling duped.
And they should.
Let's travel back some six months or so to Media Day 2009, the official kick-off to the 2009-10 season for the Dinos. At that event, Bryan Colangelo stated:
"I feel better about this training camp and the start and the preparation that's gone on then I have in a long time, and I've been doing this for 14 previous seasons."
He also threw around 50 wins as a target, assuming that to secure a 4th or 5th seed in the East, and helping to ensure a second-round playoff spot, the Raps would need to hit that number.
Obviously that didn't happen.
Instead, a win over the beleaguered New York Knicks last night left this current incarnation of the Toronto Raptors with 40 wins, a mere seven win improvement over last year's fiasco; and that's with a bazillion dollars thrown around to key pieces like Andrea Bargnani and Hedo Turkoglu, a much upgraded bench...oh, and a career year from Chris Bosh.
The team simply didn't get the job done when it counted and playoff miss aside, you can look at various other individual gaffes during the season for further proof of this club's mediocrity; an unnecessary OT loss to Memphis here and a needless give-away to the Indiana Pacers there.
In fact, if you hadn't seen this team all season, you could have only tuned into last night's game and you would have gotten a pretty good idea of the 2009-10 Toronto Raptors:
-Lots of offence
-Not much hustle
-And a lot of jump shots
The Raptors draped 131 points on the New York Knicks, one of their best offensive stands of the season, winning by nearly 20 points, however still allowed 113 themselves. This "hopefully we make more than we give up" methodology just didn't win enough games on the season and now fans are not only left facing another playoff-less spring, but also the very real prospect of franchise cornerstone Chris Bosh taking his exceptional services elsewhere.
And that really hurts.
If there was one thing Bryan Colangelo was mandated to do when he arrived in Toronto, it was not only to provide a winning product on the court, but to build a solid squad around Bosh for years to come.
Now, despite Sonny Weems' post-game thoughts that Bosh will return, that's looking very uncertain.
For the past two weeks I've argued that missing the playoffs is probably the best option for the Raptors long-term. If Bosh walks, again, looking more likely now, this team desperately needs upgrades at various positions and thanks to the contracts of Hedo Turkoglu, Jose Calderon and Andrea Bargnani, the Raptors don't have much money to use to get anyone of substance.
Therefore the draft becomes very important as a cheap source of talent.
Thanks to the playoff miss, the Dinos will now retain the lottery protected pick they owe the Miami Heat from the Shawn Marion trade. Yes, because they keep this pick now, they will lose their second-round selection to the Heat, but Toronto is still owed a second-rounder from the LA Clippers thanks to the Hassan Adams deal and therefore potentially could still grab two players in what looks to be a solid draft. With the uncertainty of the CBA hanging over the draft process, it seems like everyone and their dog is declaring, which probably means some players who would have been sure-fire first-rounders next year, will be up for grabs in the second half of the draft this year.
The other advantage of retaining a first-round selection is that even if Bryan Colangelo elects not to use the pick, he might be able to use it to "grease the skids" so to speak of a deal that gets rid of one of Toronto's more onerous contracts. Speaking to some of the other members of the media last night post-game, many mentioned that they felt Jose Calderon would be on the block if BC could find a taker. Maybe a first-round pick helps this process along.
In any event, this should be a very interesting off-season now.
Outside of Chris Bosh's decision regarding re-signing with Toronto, there are lots of other questions now hanging around this team; from Jay Triano's future to the future of players like Sonny Weems and Amir Johnson, two extremely bright spots in a season of cloudy skies. Bryan Colangelo has to do his all to keep these guys, while somehow keeping finances under control. It's a tough challenge and one we'll be examining in more detail in the coming days.
In the meatime, I suggest everyone starts checking out sites like Draftexpress.com to familiarize themselves with various prospects. I'll be throwing names like Ebanks, Pondexter, Crawford and Udoh around over the next month or so as suddenly, a draft that no one, myself included, thought would matter much to the Toronto Raptors, matters a great deal.
The unfortunate part is that the draft now comes at the expense of what should have been a playoff berth, and while I was a backer of the lottery versus a first-round date with the Cavs, talking to various Raptors pre and post-game, it was tough not to want to see this team sneak in, whether they technically deserved it or not.
Sonny Weems noted how much it would have meant to him, especially now as a starter, and how much it meant to various other players on this club, namely guys like Jarrett Jack and DeMar DeRozan. (This just cemented my belief that there aren't enough Sonny's and Jarrett's on this team, and too many Hedo's, who mysteriously vanished post-game before any of us had a chance to speak with him.) Others like Amir Johnson and Marco Belinelli discussed their past playoff experiences, even in limited roles, and how great of an atmosphere the playoffs are.
So now what?
Well, for many players like DeMar DeRozan, who you can hear myself, and then the rest of the media, speak to by clicking on the link below, it's time to head home and rest up in preparation for the summer work ahead.
For coaches and management, it's time to figure out what exactly went wrong.
We won't be stopping by to hear Triano and several players speak to the media this morning, however next Monday, when Bryan Colangelo is rumoured to be holding court, we'll be there with bells on.
Someone needs to explain to fans how last off-season was such a miss from a personnel standpoint, and how this team failed on perhaps its biggest mandate, retaining Chris Bosh.
Perhaps CB4 sticks around.
Perhaps Colangelo can put his Legomaster cap back on and shuffle the deck once more.
However I'm not so optimistic, and we may very well be bracing ourselves for something the Globe and Mail's Michael Grange dubbed post-game, "a state of Indiana-ness," when we discussed this team's future.
That is to say, not Nets-level haplessness, but nothing resembling a playoff birth, even in the East, for quite some time.