This really wasn’t supposed to be the way things went down.
This was supposed to be another strong regular season by the Toronto Raptors, an opportunity to advance beyond the first round of the NBA playoffs, and a chance for further growth and development from the likes of Andrea Bargnani, Chris Bosh and TJ Ford.
Instead, as Raptors’ fans, our patience has been tested to the max lately as we watch a team that looks as rudderless as a broken vessel at sea.
A team we might add, that is slowly sinking as low as it can possibly go in the Eastern Conference playoff standings; eighth spot.
With their 99 to 90 loss to the New Jersey Nets on Saturday night, Toronto suddenly finds itself only two games above Atlanta for the eighth seed, losers of 15 of their past 21, and under .500 for the first time since November.
The expression "backing into the playoffs" is almost an understatement at this point.
So instead of writing an immediate fire and brimstone recap, something which I admittedly was halfway through penning, I decided to take a few steps back and collect my thoughts.
Once again last night we saw a Raptors’ team that came out flat, failed to get any production from its bench, and allowed their perimeter to be breached time and time again by the likes of Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson; the two combined for 60 points on Saturday eve.
In particular, Carter was at the top of his game, miraculously after sitting out the previous match with an ankle injury. For fantasy owners of Vince, they’ve seen a player who suddenly has taken the reins for his club post-Jason Kidd, and watching him play last night made me revisit the Vince Carter era in Toronto. For a while, Carter looked like the key to the promised land before management realized he needed to go and a complete overhaul was in order.
The reality of the NBA is that you don’t retool unless you think you are a piece or two away from doing big things, say like winning the NBA Championship. This is the mentality of current Suns GM Steve Kerr obviously. The Suns were a great team with Nash, Marion and Amare but the thought was obviously that some retooling was required to get over the hump. Hence the Marion for Shaq deal (with spare parts). Whether it works or not we will have to wait and see.
The Suns have a chance.
On the flip side the Nets have none.
Yes they’re still "mathematically alive" for the playoffs but what does that get them – a date with Boston? Therefore it makes no sense to me that New Jersey would deal Kidd for a bunch of spare parts (except for Harris) and draft picks and think this will help them obtain anything but a permanent state of mediocrity.
ie - it only makes sense if they deal Vince Carter…
Well…the trade deadline has long come and gone and Vince remains a Net.
It makes sense for the Nets to rebuild from the ground up. They move to Brooklyn in the near future and if they had dealt Carter for picks and youth (and cap filler) they would have started the process now and increased their chances of building a better product before changing locals. Their version of the big three amounted to very little in terms of playoff success and the team’s inability to find consistent front-court help and production essentially did them in. It had recently become clear that Carter, Jefferson and Kidd were not a true recipe for success. The result of this lack of success was Kidd approaching the front office and asking for a trade.
And Kidd asking for a trade was no real surprise. Even prior to this season there were always rumblings that he was not happy in NJ. On a variety of occasions he called his team-mates out. He went to the press and publicly started that he wanted more help and more consistent effort. Of course many people thought his tough love was intended for the player Toronto fans love to hate, Vince Carter. It seemed well directed as Vince was starting to garner a reputation of not giving 100% all the time, and this newsflash wasn’t coming solely from north of the border for once.
Kidd grew frustrated and who can blame him? We all know that Vince has all the talent in the world. His athleticism is off the charts and when he gets that "look" in his eye he has proven to be unstoppable and one of the few players that can take over a game. The problem is that "look" is often missing as is the killer mentality demonstrated by players with similar skill sets. Players like Kobe Bryant. In many ways over his career Vince has been hesitant to harness his talent. He has shied away from being the "guy" and on more than one occasion has been accused of just not getting it. Carter just has a laisser-faire attitude. It is not something new to Toronto fans and it looks like in the end Kidd realized that this sort of attitude wouldn’t help get him where he so badly wants to go…the Finals.
Which is why watching Carter post-up, attack the rim, work inside and out and finish with 32 points, seven rebounds, five assists, two steal and a block has to be the supreme tease for Lawrence Frank and the New Jersey brain-trust.
These numbers are the type that VC should be putting up on a regular basis, not when it’s essentially "too little, too late" for his team.
Of course if we travel back in time to when Carter was originally dealt to NJ it looked like a steal for the Nets. Vince was a new man. Right from the get go he started playing with great passion and the chemistry with Kidd was instant.
Fans and critics alike crucified Rob Babcock for dealing Vince for fifty cents on the dollar. Doug Smith has called it arguably the worst trade of all time (a notion I heavily disputed in the past).
Babcock responded to the critics by saying that a deal for Alonzo Mourning (bought out), Eric Williams, Aaron Williams and two first round picks was the best deal on the table. Many wondered how this was possible. The best deal for a multiple time All-Star? It was hard to believe. It was only a few years prior that there were rumblings of a Vince for Allen Iverson deal.
Now looking back with the evidence before us now you have to wonder if that indeed was the best deal on the table. Why? Well first off, why else would you trade your star player to someone in the East, let alone the Atlantic Division? Look at the blockbusters as of late. How many times have you read that teams won’t move guys to other teams in their division? KG changed conferences. Marion changed conferences. Iverson changed conferences. Ray Allen the same.
Second, if you’re Rob Babcock, a new GM, you are undoubtedly looking for the best deal. You are looking under every rock and searching in every place imaginable trying to turn-up the best deal. There is tremendous pressure on you as a new GM who right out of the gate is being forced to deal the best player that had ever donned a Raptors jersey. Further, you have to take that deal to the MLSE Board. Toronto fans know all too well how involved the Board can be in making decisions. You think they didn’t ask Babcock if there was anything better out there?
Last, let’s get back to why fans hated Vince so much in the first place. Prior to being traded he threw in the towel. He dogged it. He gave up. He showed every character flaw possible. He was the anti-franchise player. Did Babcock actually have the foresight to shed his rose coloured glasses, something many of the general public (yes, those same ones who kept voting him in as a starter in the All-Star games) early on could not do? I mean this was the player that put the Toronto Raptors on the map! The 2000 dunk contest. The sick dunk over Fred Weiss in the Olympics. He was our guy and even with his flaws, injuries, and pouty faces we still loved him. We wanted more for the franchise guy. The thing that no one seemed to ask at the time of course was whether indeed Vince Carter WAS a franchise guy. We as fans didn’t want to ask ourselves that question and I, like many, assumed he was.
Is it possible that at the time many NBA GM’s didn’t share those same feelings as the fans in Toronto? Maybe, just maybe, the leagues GMs already knew what Vince Carter was all about. They had no reason to wear rose coloured glasses and maybe those on the inside already knew Vince was never going to be "the guy" and hence the offers were what they were.
And ironically, New Jersey may have recently found themselves in the same situation as Toronto when they looked to see what their options were with Vince. What could they have gotten in return for an on-and-off player with an albatross contract who has never advanced as far as the conference finals?
No suitors for half-man half-amazing?
The question I have is whether Carter could fetch more than two first-round picks, two role players and an aging veteran with a large contract. How did I come up with that formulation? You got it. That’s what the Raps got in return from New Jersey and I would have a hard time believing that the Nets could get more currently for Vince than what Toronto did just a few short years ago.
Think about it this way, did anyone notice that suddenly without the fans’ vote Carter was not even discussed for inclusion in the All-Star game? And that after only a few months after signing that big extension, there was plenty of trade talk concerning his future with the Nets?
So to see him play like he did last night, even as his team underachieves once again, must put the Nets in a bit of pickle. If the team is not careful, an improved Philadelphia, Boston, New York (simply by way of Donnie Walsh’s hiring) and hopefully Toronto, could suddenly have the Nets going from the penthouse to the outhouse in less than two seasons.
The problem is, with the way the Raptors have played lately, Colangelo and co. know they can’t simply rest on their laurels. This club needs help and in many ways, this off-season can’t come soon enough. Toronto is struggling in every sense of the word as even the club’s two traditional go-to weapons fell flat on Saturday. Chris Bosh was curiously ineffective against the much smaller Trenton Hassell (Lawrence Frank should be teaching classes in defending against CB4 at this point) and Toronto’s long-range weaponry, the team’s forte, was a water-gunesque 13.6 per cent effective.
But as we’ve said before, maybe rock bottom is what this team needs?
It’s definitely not an optimum time to hit the lowest of lows but perhaps better that and a clean slate come playoff time than muddling through the rest of the season at a .500 level.
And muddling is perhaps putting it kindly as seeing a Celtics team missing its big three beat a Bobcats’ club that victimized Toronto only a night before doesn’t exactly scream "yes, the Raptors are moving in the right direction!"
So for now, we’re going to take a few deep breaths here at the HQ.
On Tuesday we’ll be providing our latest stock watch with the conclusion of the NCAA tourney tomorrow night, and Wednesday we’ll take a long and hard look at another must-win match, this time against a Milwaukee Bucks team that probably won’t hit 30 wins this year.
Let’s hope the Raptors made good use of its day off today and took a few deep breaths of their own.
Because if they lose the next bunch of matches to Milwaukee, New Jersey, Miami and Chicago, we’re all going to need Lamaze classes.