While reading various end-of-season reports on our beloved Toronto Raptors, a couple common themes kept jumping out at me, regarding the team's final record.
For one, the team may have actually landed that elusive final playoff spot in the East, had it not been for the horrid Feb 25 to March 2 stretch on the schedule.
Secondly, the 4 and 19 start to the season was too big of a hole to climb out of.
Let's look at the first one to start.
Heading up to that Feb 25 marker, the Raptors had just beaten the New York Knicks at home, and prior to that, had won five of their previous six matches.
"Playoffs, here we come!" some shouted.
Unfortunately, the team then lost four straight, including matches to the Washington Wizards, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Milwaukee Bucks, with whom they were competing for that aforementioned final playoff berth.
To many, that stretch spelled doom and another playoff-less season was the club's destiny.
The second point of course is pretty self-explanatory. The team won only four of their first 23 matches, and indeed, it's pretty hard to make the playoffs, even in the East, when you've got a .173 winning percentage.
The problem with leaning too heavily on either story as the main culprit for a Raptors' fifth-straight playoffless campaign, is that neither takes Toronto's season into account, nor does it consider individual issues. People forget that Toronto lost a myriad of winnable games during the season, both during the 4 and 19 stretch and after that March 2 marker. If you're going to say that the club blew it by losing four games from the end of Feb to early March, you could just as easily say that they blew it by losing to Charlotte, Detroit, Washington, Cleveland and Sacramento at all. (The Raps lost twice to each of those clubs.)
Even winning half of those matches gives the Dinos 39 wins on the season.
The Bucks made the dance with 38.
It's just an overly simplistic view to say that "such and such a stretch was the reason they missed the playoffs."
In fact, to really answer this question I think we need to look back at training camp.
I'd guess that at the time, if I could have strapped Bryan Colangelo down and injected him with a truth serum of some sort, we'd have heard the following:
-Kyle Lowry was going to be the starting point guard the franchise has lacked since the days of a healthy Alvin Williams, acting as a bull-dog on defence, and a whirling dervish on offence.
-DeMar DeRozan was going to take the next step forward en route to being an elite shooting guard in the NBA, adding a nice little post-up game to his arsenal, all the while displaying his burgeoning defensive skills and continuing to extend his shooting range and accuracy.
-Landry Fields was going to provide a "stretch presence" offensively thanks to his ability to shoot the 3, and would give the club a Battier-esque player in terms of basketball IQ, improving the team's offence with his passing and cutting skills, and the team's defence with his savvy help and individual play.
-Speaking of stretch, Andrea Bargnani was going to pick up right where that infamous 13 game stretch in 2011-12 left off. He would be one of the league's biggest match-up problems offensively, and continue his growth defensively. Even if he was never going to average more than 7 rebounds a night, his offensive pros would greatly outweigh any defensive cons.
-Linas Kleiza, John Lucas III, Aaron Gray and Alan Anderson would give the club steady, reliable bench options at both ends, and represent upgrades over many of last year's options in this regard.
-Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas would have very solid rookie campaigns, establishing themselves early on as solid rotational options for Dwane Casey.
-And finally Casey, would further cement his team's level of top-notch defensive play, all the while improving on the club's offensive execution.
If you think about it, at face value, it's not a ridiculous set of expectations that Mr. Colangelo just blurted out via my truth serum injection. There was no mention of Fields morphing into LeBron James or Bargnani into Pau Gasol.
But pretty much none of this happened.
Lowry came to camp out of shape, never fit with Dwane Casey's philosophies and was benched in place of Jose Calderon, Andrea Bargnani was a disaster even in the few games he was healthy enough to play, DeRozan took some tiny steps forward, but could hardly be termed an "elite" shooting guard, the bench under performed once they were thrust into bigger roles post-Rudy Gay's acquisition, Fields was a bust, and Casey couldn't seem to make things work on offence or defence.
Ironically, most of the big positives of the season like Ed Davis's development and Jose Calderon's play, ended up being problematic for coach in GM in various ways, and both were shipped off around the NBA trade deadline!
To me that's really how I would explain the club's absence again from the post-season. Forget stretches of games, the fact is that the vast majority of players that Bryan Colangelo assembled either under performed in some capacity or made very little improvements based on expectations.
And when that occurs, yep, you get a 34 win basketball team.
The fact that this isn't the first time that Bryan Colangelo has misread his team's potential, or that many of us saw this coming, again, is a matter for another day.
But for now, if Colangelo is walking the aisles of the ACC moaning "Where did it all go wrong?", he simply needs to dip into a concourse bathroom and gaze into the mirror.
The schedule is a convenient speaking point regarding another season of expectations unfulfilled, but as they say, it's the players that play the games.