Just pull the plug.
If I were to summarize my feelings on the Raps the last 10 days or so, this pretty much does it. I have ranted and raved about the limited time given to the young guys, the lack of long term thinking and as the losses have mounted I've pined for the off-season. The off-season is when the fans of a losing team regain hope. They watch their team make moves, get a high draft pick, and think of what could be. You renew your optimism, and many Raps fans will experience this as the heat of summer settles in and the best game in town moves from the ACC to the Rogers Centre.
It has been tough to be a Raps fan this year. Firing of the GM, terrible start, heartbreaking losses, it all wears on you. Yesterday before the game, walking down Yonge Street noticing all the Detroit Piston jerseys wandering the streets, I couldn't help but think how different things are right now for these two Eastern Conference teams. The fans of one team thinking "what could be", the fans of the other enjoying what "is."
Going into last night's game, there was no doubt I thought the Raps were going to continue to lose. The Pistons were looking to break the franchise record for single season wins, the Raps are short-handed to say the least, and the crowd, although a sell-out, was not totally Toronto based. Add all of these things up and what was the result...a Raps victory 108-103 and a playoff-like atmosphere. Sometimes things just don't add up.
In fact, I can't remember the last time I've jumped off the couch and really gotten into a game. Last night's match-up was great for a lot of reasons but for me the main reason was this:
Raps fans could actually enjoy what is.
So yes, the Pistons did not play their starters much last night and skeptics will argue this was a weak W. In the grand scheme of things it is pretty inconsequential. If you are a Raps fan though you have to love what you saw. Although I may be ready to pull the plug, these guys just keep going out and playing their guts out. The Raps play every night, and they want to win. No-one is simply going through the motions to cash in their paychecks. Regardless of the deficit they keep coming at you and it showed last night. I mean, we really have a team filled with pride. They may not have the edge they need on the defensive end, but no-one on Toronto's roster knows the meaning of quit.
Mike James has to be given a lot of credit for this never quit mentality. Whether he is back next year or not, he will have left his mark on this team and in particular with the younger guys. His will and desire to win, although sometimes misdirected, is a trait that all great teams need. Without James there was no chance that the Raps would have won this game or even been in many others this season and although there is much discussion about whether he should be re-signed and at what price, the effect Mike James has had on this team, outside of his career numbers, is unmistakeable.
Perhaps the best thing for me about last night's win was the fine performances from the young guys. Maybe the stars were aligned is some strange way, but for whatever reason, all the young guys brought something to the table simultaneously - confidence. Joey Graham looked possessed at times shooting the rock with some swagger, and using his strengths. Calderon had his best game in months, changing speeds, finding the open guy and looking like he belonged. CV Smooth had another solid game (although I still want him in the paint) and both Pape Sow and Hoffa were assertive. It was one of those nights where the Raps displayed what they really have. Solid, developing young players with a passion to win. After harping over and over again about the uselessness of playing certain guys, it was great to see the young guys who really makeup the core and future of this team get some real burn.
Now before I wind this up I need to say one thing about the Detroit Pistons. Flip Saunders is all class, and really "gets it." The fact that with a win against the Raptors, the Pistons could break a franchise record for wins was of no consequence to him. He knows his starters have logged a ton of minutes this year and that he needs to get his bench some PT before the playoffs. He also knows that regardless of the opponent you have to show them respect. When Rasheed Wallace shot a three with his wrong hand Flip subsequently benched him for the game. Message sent. Flip sees the big picture. Gotta love this guy.
The Raps have a couple more games before the season wraps up and fans look back on what was, what is, and what could be. If anything last night's game renwed my sense of optimism for what lays ahead.
Let's not pull the plug quite yet.