Nested in ESPN’s (Insider Only) column about each NBA team’s future is an understanding that uncertainty pushes a franchise down the rankings. This morning Kevin Pelton and Bobby Marks updated their Future Power Rankings, based on a 0-to-100 (real quick) scale assessing Players, Management, Money, Market, and Draft. If there are question marks involved in any of those categories, then a team gets dinged going forward.
In that light, how did the Raptors fare in this future take? Let’s take a look.
After stepping past the Warriors at no. 1 (obviously), the Celtics at no. 2 (sure, that’s fair), the Rockets (eh, I don’t know man), the Lakers (OK), the Sixers (not trusting the process), the Jazz (huge Donovan Mitchell swing here), the Nuggets and Thunder (tied? tied!), and the Spurs (lol, yah right), we arrive at, ah yes, there they are — the Toronto Raptors.
Here’s Bobby Marks on how the Raps are set up for the future:
Toronto falls five spots despite being a threat to win the East this season. The reason? The uncertainty surrounding both Kawhi Leonard’s long-term status and rookie coach Nick Nurse inheriting a 59-win team.
Can the Raptors steal the script from the Thunder with Paul George and recruit Leonard in-house to eventually land a long-term commitment? Or will GM Masai Ujiri’s high-risk move turn into a full rebuild?
Nurse is in a similar position to that of Jason Kidd when the former point guard inherited a veteran Brooklyn team that had a win-now approach. However, Nurse has been on the Raptors’ bench since 2013, while Kidd was months removed from playing in his final NBA game.
As the piece goes on to point out, the Raptors have actually fallen five spots since the time these rankings were undertaken, in March. This is, I think, a wild interpretation of the past six months for the Raptors.
It also bears mentioning that Marks and Pelton have the Raptors outside the top ten in all five of their hand-picked categories (highest: tied for 10th in Players, lowest: tied for 24th in Draft). Now, there’s a certain level of arbitrariness to this analysis, but are we sure Toronto really is merely the 13th best market in the league, with the 11th best management? Is there anyone in the universe you’d trust more to run an NBA team than Masai Ujiri at this given moment, especially with no bat-shit owner hovering over his every move? I don’t know, guys, but I feel like this all may be a tad harsh.
In any case, the realization that yes, Kawhi Leonard could very well leave after this coming season does cast a shadow on the bright future we’re all envisioning in Toronto. In this doomsday scenario, Kawhi leaves, and the Raptors are forced to flip Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka, and probably Jonas Valanciunas to kick-start a rebuild. It would be painful, but necessary — and that’s even setting aside that the Raptors would be well-positioned for such a tear down.
But of course, the brighter future is the one where the Raps kick ass in the East in 2018-19, make it to the Finals, then re-sign Kawhi, and keep taking cracks at taking down the Warriors until it all goes to hell once again. That future doesn’t feel impossible to me, and it definitely feels better than the one the Raptors had sitting in front of them back in March.