Heading into Sunday's matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers, the Toronto Raptors organization was in a state of disarray. The team had lost 3 straight games and 8 of their last 9 with the latest lost coming in embarassing fashion on Friday night in Utah against the Jazz.
After that loss the Raptors held a team meeting to address their disappointing 4-16 start. Following that meeting, the team flew to Los Angeles where they were met by team President and General Manager Bryan Colangelo who also held meetings with the team as well as individual players.
During this time, Colangelo spoke to the media about the team's performance thus far. Here are a couple of experts from what Colangelo told the Toronto Star:
"This situation is, from all standards, unacceptable," the team's president and general manager said. "It's disappointing, it's embarrassing but this is where we find ourselves."
"We're all under a microscope now, as should be the case, including myself," said Colangelo. "We clearly have to make this right."
"I don't believe this is a talent issue," he said. "I think it's a lack of focus, attention to detail, consistency of competing. We've shown flashes of very good basketball, just not good enough to pull out games when we need to pull them out."
There is nothing overly groundbreaking about Colangelo's comments, but it is, i guess, important that he did come out and publicly acknowledge how significantly the team has struggled this season. Now, obviously a great deal of that acknowledgment comes in the form of damage control, but either way, a degree of accountability needs to be publically acknowledged.
The other interesting tidbit to take away from his comments is the last comment about his belief in the talent of this team. It is this comment that has - at least in my observation - resulted in the the most backlash.
Clearly this is a flawed roster that contains a number of holes, but to a degree, Colangelo is correct in making that statement. This team is not as bad as their record seems to indicate - if they could have strung together a couple of stronger quarters here and there, their record could look much differently. And a great deal of their struggles have had to do with their inability to sustain an effort for the full 48 minutes of a basketball game.
The problem in that statement lies in what exactly the expectations of this team are.
If your expectation of this team is that they float around the .500 mark, then perhaps it's accurate to say that this team "does't have a talent issue". The problem most people have with that statement is that this season has been built up to be the first of what was hoped to be many successful seasons in which the team competes for a playoff spot - a season which the organization can build upon for the coming years as they strive towards contention. That is the expectations that many had heading into this season and It is clear that the roster - as currently been assembled - isn't quite talented enough to achieve those goals.
Also, as an aside, It doesn't send the right message to the club if Colangelo comes out and admits that the players he has assembled to play here aren't very good.
But, again, that's the nature of the business at this point. And while he does deserve his share of criticism for not only his comments, but his body of work as a whole, at this point it is important to note that mangement, the coaching staff and the players have all been put on notice.
Would all of this talk translate into any sort of results come Sunday afternoon when the Raptors took on the Los Angeles Clippers? For three quarters of the game, it seemed as though the answer to that question was going to be yes.
Despite being undermanned yet again - Linas Kleiza started for the injured Mickael Pietrus - The Dinos came out strong against the Clippers, setting the tone with some tough defence and aggressive offense. The addition of Linas Klieza to the starting lineup gave the club a bit of an edge early. Kleiza was agrressive on both ends of the floor and even attempted to get into Blake Griffin's head by shooting him an elbow in that first quarter. That move earned him a technical foul, but seemed to be appreciated by his teammates.
In the second quarter, the combination of Ed Davis and Amir Johnson was effective once again, particularly on the boards where the Raptors were getting beat in the first quarter, but made a substantial comeback in the second.
When the Raptors switched up their defense from man-to-man to some what of a match-up zone, the Clippers were unable to get anything going and their offense stalled. This is where the Raptors took advantage, getting some big buckets from Andrea Bargnani - who was also very effective in the second and early on in the third quarter defending Blake Griffin - and DeMar DeRozan.
DeRozan lead the Raptors with 11 points and added 4 rebounds and 2 assists with zero turnovers in the half, leading the Raptors to a 3 point lead at the midway point of this contest.
DeRozan's success continued in the third when he put on a show, scoring 11 more points as he attempted to keep the team in the ball game.
But, that effort would be for not, as the game progressed into the fourth quarter, the team simply fell apart. The focus Colangelo had been talking about so much seemed to waver at the Dinos committed multiple turnovers and missed a number of key rotations defensively.
The Clipper bench, lead by Jamaal Crawford and Eric Bledsoe tore apart the Raptors defense, going on a devastating 18-1 run.
Going into this game, it was obvious that the battle of the benches was going to be huge. The Clippers bench has been one of the best in the league, and through three quarters the Raptor bench hung tough. But in the fourth it proved to be just too much to handle. Eric Bledsoe took Jose Calderon to the hole time after time, and wrecked havoc in the passing lanes defensively.
Even though the Raptors competed hard for the first three quarters, this game ends in another blow-out loss and stands as further evidence of the team's inability to stay focused for a full 48 minutes.
But, despite what Colangelo has said, it is also stands as further evidence of how far the Raptors need to come talent wise if they ever have a hope of competing with teams like the Los Angeles Clippers.
With that loss, the Raptors now fall to 4-17 on the season and seem to have dug themselves a hole they will be unable to climb out of.
This begs the question: where do we go from here? Unfortunately, there is no one answer to this question.
Maybe this means a trade is immanent, or maybe they simply wait for Alan Anderson and Landry Fields to return from injury. What happens next is anyones bet, but what we do know at this point in the season is that it is going to be another long year in Raptorland.