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Toronto Temperature: How low can the Raptors go?

For too many reasons to count, the vibes around the Raptors are off. Call it the end of an era perhaps, but we’ve got to take the Temperature and sort it out.

Toronto Raptors v Houston Rockets Photo by Cato Cataldo/NBAE via Getty Images

If it’s hard to put a finger on what specifically ails the Raptors right now, that’s because the answer seems to be: everything. We could reflect again on the pandemic, injuries, the looming trade deadline, bad bounces, disagreements, and just bad luck. It’s all there in Toronto — sorry, I mean, Tampa.

This week’s Toronto Temperature check-in sees the Raptors on a nine-game losing streak, their worst run since January 2011. If you were around a decade ago, you’ll recall the squad of that time was in a particularly dark place. This year’s version of the team is definitely not as hopeless or talentless as that 2010-11 squad, but the vibes are sinking to some pretty comparable levels. Few of us would have had reason to consider such a thing back in December 2020, even with everything going on around the Raptors that’s been totally outside their control.

And yet, here we are, once again trying to take the Temperature.

Who’s Hot

Fred VanVleet, Real Warrior

Since getting freakin’ COVID and returning to the court, VanVleet’s numbers have gone up along a steady curve. There was first his slow night of 12 points, which went to 17, then to 23, and finally to Monday night’s heroic struggle of 27. This is perhaps a small comfort, given that the Raptors are still losing games, but it’s very hard to blame VanVleet. Hell, he had eight rebounds and four steals in that Rockets contest, despite being the smallest guy on the floor!

The truth is, if VanVleet had been slower to come back from his diagnosis, we all would have understood. COVID is no joke, and to hear Fred talk about it after the fact was pretty harrowing — it’s hard for everyone, but to hear a pro athlete talk about being totally wrung out is tough. Nevertheless, it’s clear VanVleet loves basketball, loves giving it his all, and is very much trying to rally his team to a W. It’s too bad it hasn’t worked out just yet, because, well, VanVleet deserves some good news after the month he’s had.

Tonight’s All-Women Broadcast

While the vibes on the court for the Raptors are indeed quite bad, there’s been some cool things happening off it. Case in point: tonight’s Raptors game against the Nuggets, which could go south once again for Toronto, has a great story attached to it. For the evening — and for the first time ever — the Raptors’ broadcast will be led entirely by women.

The buzz for this game has been slowly building all month, and it’s easy to see why. Calling the game will be Meghan McPeak along with analyst Kia Nurse, on the sideline will be Kayla Grey, and in the studio Kate Beirness and Amy Audibert will be calling the shots. It’s amazing to consider that this is the first time this has ever been done for a professional sports broadcast, and it’s cool the Raptors are the team getting the jump on it here.

In that spirit, we’ll give VanVleet the hammer comment here:

The Award-Winning Raptors 905!

One last positive note here: the Raptors 905 had themselves quite a year. In the shortened G League Bubble season, they went 12-3, which was good for tops in the league. Yes, they didn’t make it out of the second round of the knockout playoffs, but it’s hard not to consider this season a success.

Don’t believe me? Consider the 905’s run of awards: first their GM Chad Sanders won the Executive of the Year award, then Gary Payton II won the league’s Defensive Player of the Year, then a trio of players (Alize Johnson, Henry Ellenson, Malachi Flynn) got named to the All-NBA G League Second Team. Wait, I’m not done. Flynn was also named to the All-Rookie team of the G League. And of course, thanks to his previous award, Payton II made it onto the league’s All-Defense team.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: congrats to the Raptors 905. This is a great look for the organization as a whole.

Who’s Not

Pascal Siakam, What’s Up Man?

It’s fair to start with two things here: first, Siakam sitting out for the league’s health and safety protocols while his friend and teammate VanVleet dealt with COVID and the Raptors struggled — all while carving out a temporary life for himself in Tampa — has clearly taken its toll. This emotional dip within Siakam happened in the Bubble last season and it appears to be the case now. Under normal circumstances, this was supposed to be the season of Siakam’s leap into franchise player status, and that leap is hard enough without considering the effects of the team’s relocation and the ongoing global pandemic. So, that’s part one, and it is a very big part.

The second thing though is this: we can factually describe Siakam’s play and temperment right now as... erratic. The reasons for these all-over-the-place outcomes — ineffective performances, a couple of weird benchings, some apparent out-right angerare understandable, but the results also speak for themselves. The Raptors are on a nine-game losing streak and in a bad place, and one of the major reasons for that has been Siakam’s inability to maintain any sort of consistency. Again, to be clear, I say with force: this is understandable. Pascal is operating under a lot of stress and pressure, and it is decidedly unfair to expect him to be a basketball-playing robot given the circumstances. I just hope Siakam can find a way back to being the player and person we know he can be.

The Trade Deadline, and the End

I still don’t buy the idea that the Raptors are going to trade Kyle Lowry in the next 24 or so hours. Sure, it’s possible they’ll wheel on Norman Powell, if only because it makes sense to sell high on him, his skill-set is somewhat replaceable, and as our guy Daniel Hackett pointed out, his next contract will be a big one. But Lowry? No, I just don’t see how a deal makes sense right now.

That said, this still could be the end of what I’ll call the Kyle Lowry Era, the period of Raptors excellence from 2013 to about a month ago in 2021. Regardless of what happens with Lowry, whether he’s traded in the next day, or leaves in the summer, or plays for another few years in a Toronto uniform, it’s clear the team will have to make some not inconsiderable changes to regain their form. And as part of those changes, the team may be average at best. Lowry helps raise that floor, assuming he stays in the short or longer term, but how much better the team actually gets will now more completely be contigent on the younger core, and whatever other players come to the Raptors.

In short, Lowry’s days as the absolute engine of success in Toronto may already be over. And if that’s the case, well, all you can say is: gotdamn, what a run.