We are presented this good morning with something of a philosophical conundrum. In an NBA vacuum, can a team’s inaction be judged as an absolute negative or is there some peace to be found in peaceful inactivity? How do we grade potential properly anyway? Forgive me if this all sounds like a zen koan. The coffee hasn’t quite kicked in.
David Aldridge, your dad at NBA.com, ranked the respective offseason’s for all 30 teams in the NBA. The introduction of his piece makes clear the judging criteria for his list — Aldridge is looking at trades, signings, draft picks, management shakeups, coaching decisions and the tracking of priorities on a team-by-team basis. Even he is quick to admit: this is all more of an art than a science.
As one would expect, the Golden State Warriors came in at number one in these rankings. This makes sense given they signed a player (Kevin Durant) only two years removed from an MVP-winning season and already have the league’s reigning MVP (Steph Curry). That’s a lot of MVPs.
But then, at the other end, in a section Aldridge refers to as the Bottom 10, all the way down at number 27 (as ominous a number as there ever was): the Toronto Raptors.
In times of anger, many Raptors fans would surely lash out at such an assessment. Aldridge seems ready for this, leading off his analysis with an appeal to calm. “Please do not send me mail, Toronto types,” says Aldridge. “Telling me I hate your franchise and hate Canada. I don't, and I don't.”
It’s almost as if Raptors fans have earned something of a reputation, as if they are now something of a type, a group of people usually pushed to the margins in good times and in bad. It’s almost as if they are used to being disrespected. I... can’t imagine why. But also, I digress.
By Aldridge’s metric, the Raptors didn’t do much this offseason. They re-signed DeMar DeRozan, a polarizing player, sure, but also the first ever big name player to return to the team for a third contract. (Bosh and Carter both left after their first extension.) DA identifies Kyle Lowry as the key figure in the Raptors’ present and future, and in this he is also not wrong. Whatever happens with Lowry in 2016-17 will determine where Toronto ends up, and whatever happens with him next summer will plot the course for the team into the future. That’s a big-ass question looming.
Where things get a little fuzzy is in the rest of Aldridge’s assessment. This is where we return to our conundrum. Should the Raptors be graded in the negative for not throwing too much money at undeserving players? Should they be punished for not shedding assets (yes, even Terrence Ross) for poor fit “upgrades”? Should caution necessarily be regarded as a paucity of vision? I preach moderation here.
The Raptors lost a handful of marginal players at the end of last season and one relatively valuable player. You know the names by now — Johnson, Scola, Thompson (and Bennett, if you want to be charitable) in the former category; Bismack Biyombo in the latter. As Aldridge rightly points out, losing Biz will hurt the team defensively and perhaps spiritually. Biyombo is a mammoth presence to replace — and the solutions so far (more minutes for Lucas Nogueira, a platoon solution with Jared Sullinger, maybe minutes for rookies Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam) don’t exactly inspire a pile of confidence.
But -- and allow me to lose my cool here for a moment — would you rather have the offseason the Chicago Bulls had, with their island of misfit toys backcourt and clueless front office bumbling? Or the Clippers who managed to overpay for both Jamal Crawford and Austin Rivers? Good lord, the Kings are ranked 13th in there! Thirteenth! Is there a timeline in existence in the multiverse in which you would look back on a given summer and judge the shrewd moves of one Vlade Divac to be superior to those of Masai Ujiri?
The answer is no, folks. There is not.
Look, I get it. The Raptors are counting on internal improvement, on an even bigger season from Jonas Valanciunas (who will definitely have to be big now in the absence of Biyombo), on the continued excellence of Lowry, on the incremental advancement of DeRozan’s throwback skill set. There are still a lot of questions about that front court. None of the things being described here is particularly sexy. The Raptors didn’t add a big name free agent, and their draft picks were solid if unspectacular (for now). The one dude they did sign (Sullinger) is likely to be good enough, but not great. The Raptors will once again be in the playoff mix but removed from the true title picture. I, like Aldridge, hear your complaints.
But I beseech you: remember what it was like in the days of yore, when every Raptors offseason was a white-knuckled spin around some kind of bizarro wheel of terror? When a new coach would come in and be immediately questionable? When the draft would be an abject disaster? When we weren’t sure which terrible signing would blow up first? In 21 years of existence, there have been very few objectively good offseasons in Raptors history. And now, for the past three years, they’ve all been good. It’s true.
Even in a vacuum, just this one summer, I’ll take the Raptors’ thoughtful approach to the helter skelter old days of whatever the hell Rob Babcock was doing, or the quick swap I-can-fix-this madness of Bryan Colangelo. And I’ll certainly as hell take this Raptors’ offseason over that of the gotdamn Kings. There are just some things we have to hold on to as true!
All right, I think the coffee has kicked in.