Does a lack of development from players like DeRozan, coupled with potentially an eighth overall pick make last season a failure?
23 wins in 66 games was an improvement over the Raptors' 2010-11 campaign. But as Franchise notes, that doesn't necessarily make this past season a success.
Let's go back a year.
The Toronto Raptors had just come off an atrocious 22 win season, one of the worst in franchise history. Their key building blocks, Andrea Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan had again, showed little progress in terms of being franchise centerpieces. The lone bright spots came via the gritty intensity and athleticism of youngsters Amir Johnson and Ed Davis, and at times, the rebounding machine known as Reggie Evans.
It was evident that a lot of work needed to be done.
In the following months the recently re-upped Bryan Colangelo got to work, drafting promising Lithuanian big man Jonas Valanciunas, and making subtle moves via free agency, so as not to ruin any future financial flexibility.
All were in agreement that the 2011-12 season for the Toronto Raptors, if there was a season, was to be one of growth and development. Ideally, the team would respond to newly minted head coach Dwane Casey and improve defensively, but still lose enough games to ensure a top three lottery finish. After all, if there was a season to "tank", it was the upcoming one. Even before the Anthony Davis hype truly took off, returning blue chip prospects like Harrison Barnes, Perry Jones III and Jared Sullinger made the class of 2012 look like one to truly one to lose games over.
And lose Toronto did...
...just not as much as some folks anticipated.
The Raptors ended up winning 23 games, a good chunk more than many thought.
My own 21 win pre-season prediction, based on Toronto's compressed schedule, seemed obese in fact compared to various other prognostications. On paper the Raptors seemed to have the least talented team in the league aside from perhaps the Charlotte Bobcats and post-Chris Paul New Orleans Hornets, so guestimates of 18 and 15 wins didn't seem to be that big of a stretch. (Although come on Bob McCowan...SIX?)
But when the season's final bell tolled, an 89 to 67 win over the New Jersey Nets gave the Raps 23 victories in their abridged season, and a coin flip loss to the overtly tankish Golden State Warriors means the team is now sitting with the eighth-best odds at getting a crack at the number one overall draft spot.
And so I have to ask, if the end result means indeed that the Raptors get the eighth overall draft pick, is this season a failure?
It's a question I pondered last week while taking a break from the daily Raptors' influx of posts. Lost in the 13 games of Andrea, defensive improvements, and James Johnson discoveries, is the fact that this club is somehow going into the upcoming draft lottery with a much worse shot at the number one overall pick than last season! With essentially the same line-up!
Maybe that's to be expected considering that for young, rebuilding teams, most of the time improvement comes naturally from the growth of said youngsters. But the scary part with the Raps is that fans saw very little improvement, if any, from most of the team's core youngins!
It's almost a worst-case scenario in a way.
You want the youngsters you've invested the most in to lead any improvements with your team, be they even minute, as it shows the club has the right basic parts in place. But for the Raps this past season, I'd argue that Dwane Casey's change in defensive philosophies accounted for most of the improvement, with solid seasons from veterans like Jose Calderon adding another portion of the overall improvement pie.
I mean, for all of Andrea Bargnani's 13 games of brilliance...they were just 13 games. The team won six of 13 during that span and upon his return he looked much more like the Andrea we saw in the five previous years.
Yes, those 13 games were promising, I even wrote a post about them and hoping to see more of that type of production down the road, but the fact remains that the team won only 13 of the 31 games that Andrea played, a pace that over an entire season, still would have meant about 28 wins, a good chunk less than was required to even sneak into a final playoff spot in the East.
So without substantial improvement coming from your current roster, what do you do?
You need to add talent, either via the draft or free agency.
Considering certain realities about attracting free agents to Toronto (I don't care what Casey says about Toronto as a free agent destination, Deron Williams ain't coming next year) the draft is your best shot.
So...yeah, about those eighth-best odds of grabbing Anthony Davis...
Now obviously if Toronto somehow jumps into a top three lottery spot, things look a lot better. But right now considering their odds, and coupled with the disappointing campaigns from DeRozan and Davis, and continued question marks around players like Bayless and Bargnani, can't you say this season was a failure? It's not that I'm displeased with the team's defensive improvements, but to me that's a micro-level improvement. At some point, all the defensive schemes in the world aren't going to fix a lack of true elite talent, and by failing to ensure a "top three draft odds finish," didn't the club sell itself short in this capacity? From a macro level, to me, this year was all about increasing the draft odds while hopefully seeing big jumps in development from the team's key youngsters, and in my books, that didn't happen. We're left with a Raptors squad with little certain upside, and a potential draft spot that's akin to a dart throw in terms of predictive success.
It's deja-vu all over again for us fans in this sense.
Much like the post Jermaine O'Neal, Shawn Marion-led Raptors of 2008-09, this year's club failed to maximize its chances regarding the NBA's lottery system, and may indeed now be looking at drafting a much-less elite prospect than they had intended. Yes, I'm saying that the club didn't tank hard enough and while it's not exactly a position I relish advocating, it's a necessary evil in today's NBA. The importance of the draft and the way it currently operates necessitates tanking, and while the Raptors did in the final games of the season apparently attempt to take this route, it was too little too late.
As President and General Manager, I believe that Bryan Colangelo's responsibility should have been to guide this process along from day one, much like we saw teams such as Golden State do. Considering the lack of development from his key players as the season progressed, and the known issues regarding free agency, all the thrust of Colangelo's efforts should have gone towards the draft. Getting the eighth pick wouldn't have been such an issue if DeRozan had looked like Rip Hamilton when the season ended, and Ed Davis a David Robinson-era Tm Duncan.
But that was hardly the case and now a lot rests on this upcoming draft in terms of the club's future. (As well as the play of Valanciunas obviously.) A top three pick would have gone a long way to ease that burden and therefore in my eyes, this season as of now gets an F on the overall report card.
We'll have to wait until May 30 to see if that gets officially marked down in red ink.