Tonight likely represents what could be a strange series of games for the Toronto Raptors.
They made their blockbuster trade official yesterday sending Rudy Gay, Aaron Gray and Quincy Acy to the Sacramento Kings. The club also waived guard D.J. Augustin and now has four new roster players, albeit ones that aren't expected to play tonight against the San Antonio Spurs.
But as has been discussed all over the interweb, the current roster is likely to change again as new GM Masai Ujiri continues to put his stamp on the club.
So in many ways, games like tonight's are somewhat irrelevant.
Other than hoping for losses - if you're in the "pro-tank" camp - games like this represent somewhat of a "biding of time," we'll call it until Ujiri gets the combination of players he truly wants on the club.
That may mean banishing the likes of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan to Never Never Land as many are anticipating, or it may mean moving literally any combination of players on the current squad as Ujiri moves the chess pieces around to his liking.
So it's hard to put too much stock into "three keys" for tonight's match-up in terms of a trifecta of elements necessary for a Toronto win. Instead, I've decided this morning to go with three keys until Ujiri's next sequence of moves, ones that I think will most benefit the club in the long run.
1) Let Jonas and Terrence go wild. One of the immediate returns from the Rudy Gay trade was that his removal would have a big impact on the club's two youngest prospects, Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas. Sans-Gay, Ross would most likely get a lot more playing time, something crucial for the Dinos. The team desperately needs to get an idea of what they have in the sophomore not only in terms of deciding if he's a big part of the club's future, but understanding his value for inclusion in potential future trades.
As for Jonas, this one is a bit more of a case of addition by subtraction. While Jonas was getting more consistent playing time while Gay was a member of the Raptors, Gay's black-holishness was negating many of Big Val's offensive abilities and impacting his growth and development. Now, the club should be able to do a better job featuring the young Lithuanian on O, again, an essential part of understanding just what this franchise has for potential building blocks going forward.
2) Give the keys to the offence to Kyle Lowry. This one is especially important considering one of the incoming Raptors from the Rudy Gay trade, Grievis Vasquez, is purported to be a Dwane Casey favourite. If the club truly wants to move Kyle Lowry, maximizing his value would certainly be beneficial for the Raptors and that means giving him free reign over the club's offense. Lowry looked great sans-Gay on Sunday night against the Lakers and the Raps need to continue with him captaining the ship so to speak. What can't happen is another point guard battle where Casey elects to go with Vasquez over Lowry which would equate to "penny smart, dollar foolish."
3) If not tank then... Look, we know Dwane Casey isn't going to try and lose games. At least not on purpose. But at the same time, he needs to understand that this club frankly is best served by bottoming out and the challenge will be to do this while getting top efforts out of his club, and maintaining/increasing the trade values of his current roster, all of whom could find themselves in new area codes in the coming months. It's a tough spot for him to be in for sure, but Casey had to understand that with a new sheriff in town, this was a likely outcome to the season.
And that starts tonight against the San Antonio Spurs.