Jazz vs Raps, which team would you rather be as of now? The HQ's Sean Tepper takes a look and gives his thoughts...
The Toronto Raptors haven't exactly been playoff contenders for the better half of the last ten years.
In fact the club has averaged 32 wins over the last four seasons and with win totals of 33, 40, 22 and 23, it's pretty hard to say there's been much trending towards a future playoff birth.
Yet when we kicked off our "Who'd You Rather Be?" series on Thursday and asked fans if they'd rather be in the place of the Dallas Mavericks, a perennial playoff team and recent NBA Champs, or the Toronto Raptors, we got about a 50/50 split in terms of the vote.
I'm not going to agree with the outcome but through comments, tweets and emails, it's clear that many Raptors' fans view the Dinos' current youth and upcoming draft prospects in a much more "optimistic light" than I, hence the responses.
So what about comparing Toronto to one of this year's playoff teams that is absolutely chalk-full of young talent?
We'll see, as next up is the second team to get knocked out of this year's dance, the Utah Jazz...
Although it is a small market team, Utah has one of the best fan bases in all of the NBA. Now that may be because of the fact that there is nothing to do in Utah other than watch basketball, but I do believe that that fan base is a draw for some players.
Although Utah has lost players to big-market teams and haven't landed a high profile free agent in quite some time, they have been able to successfully appeal to veteran players, bringing them in to provide the club with necessary depth.
In my opinion, Toronto is and always has been a big-market team that has been treated like a small-market one. While I do believe that is mostly because of the fact that it is not in the United States, players don't seem to care that as Canada's only basketball team, they have the potential to be the face of Canadian basketball. As one of the most multi-cultural cities in the world, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the team has managed to lure a lot of European players, but attracting big-name American players is something that has never been accomplished. I think that Scott put it best on Thursday when he said that luring players north of the border "may just be a matter of establishing a winning culture that does away with all of [the] concerns that get talked about the most."
To me the difference between TO and Utah is just that; the Jazz have had that "winning culture" for some time while the Raps have only provided fleeting glances. If Toronto can indeed begin winning on a consistent basis, I'm not sure how they wouldn't have the upper hand here but for now, Utah gets the edge.
Advantage Jazz, but barely
Are you insane, this isn't even close!!? Would you rather have a front court consisting of Al Jefferson, Enes Kanter, Derrick Favors and Paul Millsap or Bargs, Amir and Ed? If you chose the latter, you're either deeply delusional, on drugs, or work for Primo Pasta.
If Jonas Valanciunas manages to live up to the hype then things might be a bit closer, but until I see him play against NBA-calibre opponents night in and night out, hype alone cannot tip the scales too much here.
Advantage Jazz by a mile
Although I am not well versed on Utah's management, I do know that during the whole Deron Williams vs. Jerry Sloan saga from a season ago, they backed Williams, seemingly forced Sloan to resign, and then proceed to trade Williams to the New Jersey Nets. Personally, I was never a big fan of Kevin O'Connor before this, but he handled this situation as best as he could, quickly flipping Williams for a solid package of blue chip pieces while his value was still high. However it's hard to say that Utah's management is head and shoulders above TO as a quick look at their draft history, outside of Williams and CJ Miles in 2005, gives you Millsap and...Morris Almond? Herbert Hill? Kosta Koufos? Eric Maynor? (who they didn't even keep.) I do think that with the right personnel around them that Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks and Enes Kanter will develop into above average NBA players, but only time will tell on that end.
During his time with the Raptors, Brian Colangelo has made some pretty poor draft and free-agent signings too. In his defense, I do believe that the signings looked good at the time, but they just didn't pan out for reasons beyond his control. That's not to excuse moves like Hedo, but it's not like the Jazz haven't had their share of albatross deals too in recent years (cough-Kirilenko.) Since we're looking though at the here and now, I do believe that Colangelo has put the Raps in a good position to make some noise going into this off-season, and simply feel more confident in having him at the helm than I do with O'Connor. I actually believe that Colangelo is a better talent evaluator, and I think this will bear itself out via recent draft selections like Valanciunas.
Like the Toronto Raptors, the Jazz will have a lot of wiggle room this offseason. With roughly $8 million in cap space, Utah will be allowed to take in more salary than it sends out in a trade. Additionally, because of the backlog at forward, the team has a number of valuable assets in potentially great players with expiring contracts. Devin Harris, who is set to make $8.5 million next year, Al Jefferson ($15 million next year) and Paul Millsap ($8.6 million next year) will all have their contracts come off the cap in the summer of 2013. While they may only one year left to decide whether or not they should keep their roster of semi-stars, decisions on all three will likely dictate Utah's financial situation over the next couple of years.
On the other side, while Utah indeed has flexibility, I'd argue Toronto has more. The Raps will have close to $10 million is cap space this off-season thanks in-part to trading away Leandro Barbosa to the Indiana Pacers in March. Not only does this immediately make the Raptors a contender to land a sizable free-agent this summer, but it gives them enough financial flexibility to explore this summer's trade market. Essentially the Raptors have free-reign to approach almost any deal they want with nothing holding them back, and that's a great thing for a young team.
Advantage Raptors, by a lot
Going by the above, I would say that as of right now Utah has a much stronger team than Toronto, but the Raptors have the potential to quickly leapfrog over them. The future of both of these franchsie are unclear and the way that they handle themselves during the off-season may indeed dictate their respective long-term futures.
As of now, the edge to me goes to the Jazz, but I don't think the Raps are that far behind.