It’s been well established by now at HQ that Monday is the day of the Power Rankings review. Yesterday, which happened to be one such Monday, also marked the end of the 2019-20 NBA season — one prolonged by a months-long suspension. With the Lakers claiming the 2020 title, it means we can officially shift our view to the future and 2021. The reason we’re here on Tuesday reflecting on this? Well, yesterday was Canadian Thanksgiving. That’s just how it goes.
What isn’t just how it goes is ESPN’s take on Toronto’s future fortunes. Here’s where they stand as of yesterday, according to Mr. Good Time himself, Tim Bontemps:
11. Toronto Raptors
The Raptors’ focus remains on 2021, when they’re expected to be one of many teams in pursuit of Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo. In the meantime, the Raptors have three key players — guard Fred VanVleet and big men Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol — who will be unrestricted free agents. VanVleet is one of the best players on the market and could be in for a big payday this offseason. Ibaka and Gasol could both return on one-year deals, though there is a possibility that Gasol returns to his native Spain to finish out his career. Then there is the status of team president Masai Ujiri, who has one year left on his contract. Coach Nick Nurse recently signed a contract extension, and general manager Bobby Webster is expected to sign his own sometime soon.
The assessment above, noting as it does the team’s current free agency situation, the semi-flux state of management, and their quest for the ultimate prize in Giannis, is in no way incorrect. But I’ll go one further and suggest there isn’t as much uncertainty around the Raptors as one might think. It’s quite easy to see how they will indeed re-up both Webster and Ujiri — I believe that’ll happen at some point before the end of the year — and bring back at least two of VanVleet, Ibaka, and Gasol. And really, that’ll be good enough for another 50 win season for the Raptors. It’s true.
Which brings us to the questionable part of the power ranking, the mistake you’d think analysts and commentators would have learned to avoid by now when considering the future prospects of the Raptors. By putting Toronto in at number 11, they are placed behind some better teams, there’s no doubt about that. The Lakers and Clippers still have a lot of talent (even if the latter is definitely looking shakier today than they did a few months ago); the Mavericks and Nuggets have some All-Star and even MVP-level young talent; the Warriors and Nets could be total powerhouses of their respective conferences. But still we must ask, somewhat incredulously: eleventh? Really??
Are the Raptors still worse than the obviously crumbling Sixers? Are the Heat really poised to be that much better next season than they were this season? Are we sure the Bucks are indeed that much better than most of the teams — including Toronto! — we’re talking about here? Has none of the last calendar year taught us anything?
All of this is admittedly just one man’s lunatic opinion. But far be it from me to even consider the Raptors falling out of the league’s top five teams — let alone the top ten! — next season. Year after year, of course, we’re told the Raptors are due to regress. And while 2020 was indeed a step back (they didn’t repeat as champions after all), there was very little letdown from this squad in the regular season. They “overachieved” as it were, but really they just played to the level they’ve been playing to for many years now. To suddenly have them sliding further down the upper echelons of the league feels like a mistake.
Time will tell.