Ok so now what?
It's almost a bit hysterical but the more I emphasize the need for the Toronto Raptors to find a way to lose games and ensure a top spot in the draft, the more they win.
Last night's impressive 104 to 98 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder was the latest retort by the club as the Dinos simply outplayed the Thunder handing Kevin Durant and co. their first home loss of the season.
Not too shabby.
And unlike some of the previous wins in the club's recent period of success, this one came thanks to some lock-down defence as opposed to simply putting forth a better offensive performance than their opponents. The Raptors did have a solid 22 assists on 91 shots but hit less than 40 per cent of said shots.
However they held the league's sixth-most efficient offense to under 37 per cent shooting en route to the victory, even weathering some second-half OKC runs.
But it's these two in my books that are the difference between an Atlantic Division title - don't laugh, at this current pace I don't see another club catching the Dinos - and one of the five worst teams in the league. A few folks mentioned it in the comments to Sarah's Rapid Recap but Terrence Ross is still woefully inconsistent, Landry Fields and Steve Novak aren't playing, Greivis Vasquez can't defend and gets a little shot happy, Tyler Hansbrough looks overmatched on most nights, etc, etc, etc.
And that's why as much as it pains me to say it, this team still needs to figure out a way to bottom out.
Every time I find myself getting excited about the club's recent play, I have to force myself to look at the long-term view of the franchise, and the best case scenario for the roster as it's currently constructed. To me, the best case is an Atlantic Division title (woooooo!) and maybe a playoff series victory. Considering how bad the East is, it's not out of the realm of possibility that the Raptors finish fourth in the conference, play a club like Washington in the first round (which would be the case if the playoffs began today), win, and then get knocked out by a club like Indiana or Miami. In some ways that's not a horrendous proposition, especially considering the Dinos' dearth of playoff appearances over the last, oh, decade.
But what happens after that?
What about next season?
It's admittedly hard to envision a scenario where the Raptors stay a top-four team in the East barring huge developmental leaps from Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross, as I feel that the current roster is playing pretty much to the max of their ability. That might be enough for a top playoff spot this season, but it's hard to believe that will continue to be the case in seasons to come, nor will it be enough to eventually supplant a club like Miami or Indiana. (Or Chicago or whoever else gets it together.) If the end goal is to compete for an NBA Championship, I think we can all agree that this current iteration of the Raptors, as fun as it is to watch, ain't gonna get the job done.
More importantly, it's highly unlikely we'll even continue to see this current iteration of the Dinos after this season considering players like John Salmons, Patrick Patterson, and Greivis Vasquez can all be cut loose.
And then there's the whole Kyle Lowry situation.
If the Raptors had Lowry under contract for another season or two, I could understand some of the rationale regarding abandoning the tank, or "re-build" or whatever you want to call it. With Lowry as the lead guard, DeRozan and Amir Johnson still in place, Jonas and Terrence developing, and some freed up cash thanks to Gay's removal and the short-term financial obligations I previously mentioned, the Raps could pull a bit of an Indiana, and continue to rebuild on the fly. That's not an awful club -sing along with me, especially in the East - and Masai could continue to tinker as needed.
But with the way Lowry's playing, he could quite easily jump for greener pastures with his value at an all-time high. Remember, this is a player who back in 2010 was entertaining overtures from the post-LeBron Cleveland Cavaliers (not exactly a case of a player seeking a winning situation over getting paid) before the Houston Rockets matched the offer in order to retain his services. If he goes, it suddenly gets ugly again for the Raps, and the club thanks to its playoff appearance this year, doesn't likely have much in the way of blue chip prospects to fall back on.
And even if Lowry stays, he'll likely cost a pretty penny and again, you have to ask yourself to what end? So the Raps can potentially challenge for a final playoff spot in the East each season?
I guess the direction you advocate the club heading depends a lot on your view of that last sentence.
If you believe that with the bulk of the current roster, and a full season under its belt, the club will be a top contender in the East than have at it. Under this scenario, Masai hammers some nails and screws in a new light fixture here or there as opposed to donning his hard hat and summoning the wrecking ball.
But if like me, you believe that the Raptors as presently composed are about as good as it gets, than you have little choice but to hope Masai has one hand on the phone right now taking offers for Kyle Lowry, the other on the controls to the bulldozer.