It's been a near-constant refrain over the past two months: can you imagine how good these Raptors could be if they had a healthy DeMarre Carroll in the starting lineup?
Yes, despite all the highs of this season -- the second seed locked up, 50 wins on the way, two All-Stars, etc. -- the Raptors have largely been without their big free agent signing, swingman Carroll. To date he's played in just 23 games this season, and whether because of injury (banged up knee, plantar fasciitis) or unfamiliarity, Carroll has hardly looked like himself.
Yesterday, Doug Smith of the Toronto Star floated an idea out there that I suspect was not on a lot of people's radar. For the past two months we've just assumed that Carroll is rounding into form, getting himself back into game shape, and willing to jump back in to the lineup before the end of the regular season so as to be ready for the playoffs. But, as Smith opines: maybe this isn't the best idea.
To expect him to come back and contribute immediately is both folly and wishful thinking. He's played in just 23 of 70 games and battled plantar fasciitis even before the knee issues popped up necessitating the surgery. To imagine he'd get fully healthy and in game shape in the 16 days left in the regular season defies logic.
The reasoning behind this thinking is sound. Tossing Carroll out there for the last few games of the season and hoping he'll fit right in is a huge gamble. And that's assuming he's even 100 percent healthy, rather than just gamely trying to do his best (which is how we ended up here to begin with). And while the 3-spot in the lineup is currently manned by Norman Powell (a rookie) and James Johnson (a James Johnson), the Raptors as a team have obviously be doing well in the absence of Carroll. That's not to say he wouldn't help, but the team has found a successful equilibrium without him.
The flip side of this is that opening question: Just how good could these Raptors be if Carroll had been healthy this whole time? With no new information out there regarding his health status, we can only wonder. Regardless of whether or not Carroll plays again this season, it's a question that will stay in our minds all summer.