After a disastrous finale on Friday night which resulted in a 118 to 116 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, I gave a pretty harsh critique of the Toronto Raptors. The subtle winning streak that saw this club pushing for a playoff spot only a few weeks ago has been all but forgotten, and we've been left with a mess to try and sort out, something I'm going to dig into tomorrow.
And that would be fine if this was June 1, the club assessing the positives and negatives on the roster in hopes of turning things around.
But it's March 10 and unfortunately, and the Toronto Raptors still have 19 games to play, including tonight's tilt against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
So what's the play here?
Should fans again, for what seems like the fifteenth season in a row, start cheering for the club to lose so they can potentially improve their draft lottery luck?
Or due to the protection on the pick and that it's almost surely going to Oklahoma City, should fans be rooting for Dino wins, hoping to minimize the damage in terms of the pick's perceived value?
Something in between? A mix of wins and losses to help continue to build the confidence of the youngsters on the club, and yet not give the Thunder as good of shot at adding another stud to their roster?
It's not an easy call, but after giving this dilemma some thought yesterday, I think the greater good is served by going with option B, losing every possible game from here on out.
Hear me out.
As I've discussed quite a bit of late, there's not a lot of capacity for improvement on this club. The hope is that Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas will take big leaps forward next year, but they're a) not exactly playing a whole lot when it counts right now, and b) don't exactly have LeBron James-type upsides.
That's not to say big improvements from this duo won't help, but I don't see it, next year anyways, as being enough to suddenly push the club into the East's upper echelon.
And other than those two, perhaps a full training camp and more time for the current cast helps with amorphous things like chemistry, but I'm hard-pressed to see much of a step forward coming from any other player on the team. In fact players like Rudy Gay and Andrea Bargnani have been trending in the opposite direction.
What about improvement by addition?
Yes, a distinct possibility if indeed you felt the club could substantially upgrade in this manner. But to do this, the team would likely have to exchange other players of value, high draft picks, or favourable contracts, and those respective cupboards of course, are quite bare.
The draft is one of the best, if not THE best shot at acquiring cheap, blue chip talent, and despite the protection on Toronto's pick, is still potentially available for the taking. If the Raptors finish with a poor enough record, they could possible retain the selection, easing the pain of another playoff-less season.
Currently, the Toronto Raptors have the eleventh-worst record in the league with 24 wins and 39 losses.
That's not a great mark in terms of securing a top three pick.
However the Cleveland Cavaliers, the club the Raps play tonight and owners of the league's fifth-worst record, have only three less wins than Toronto, humming along at a 21 and 41 mark.
That's not a big delta and to take things one step further, the third-worst club in the league, the Washington Wizards, have only 20 wins, four less than Toronto.
No one's catching the abominable Bobcats at 13 and 50, but the point here is that it's quite possible Toronto loses enough games with 19 still remaining on the schedule, to bottom out and keep that draft pick. Even if they miss slightly, and the Thunder take the draft pick, I'm not sure there's a lot of downside. The Thunder have been so astute with their draft picks that chances are, even if Toronto ends up turning over the 12th pick, a fairly optimum scenario one would argue, the Thunder would turn that into one of the draft's best players. The franchise has been lights out in terms of lottery selections so I wonder if there REALLY would be a difference between them nabbing the fourth pick vs the twelfth.
Obviously there are ramifications to losing the bulk of the last 19 games, and it's not exactly what you want to do as a die-hard fan, but I'm not sure the other options at this point.
A giant losing streak to end the season may finally force Dwane Casey into playing his rookies, and maybe, just maybe, that's enough to finally seal Bryan Colangelo's fate as President and GM of this franchise.
It's not a pretty picture, but I'm just not sure there's a better option at this point, barring some sort of divine intervention. The saying "it's always darkest before dawn" applies here, and to that end, I'm once again firing up the tank.
And yes, that begins tonight, a perfect opportunity in fact, against a team they're suddenly chasing in the "Tanking Rankings."