The Toronto Raptors' chances of making the playoffs continue to fade, so when is it time for the team to throw in the towel on the season?
The Toronto Raptors entered the 2020/21 season on the back of three exceptionally strong seasons, with consecutive division titles and an NBA championship in 2019 sandwiched between two conference semi-final appearances.
But this season, the Raptors have found themselves floundering and looking a shadow of themselves due to a number of unfortunate situations.
First, the worldwide pandemic and strict border rules in Canada meant that the team were unable to play at the Scotiabank Arena, having to temporarily relocate down to the Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida, putting players, particularly those with tenure, far away from home for the duration of the season.
Then, a number of key players contracted the virus and are still working their way back to regular health, something that is likely to continue even through to next season.
Along with that, head coach Nick Nurse has lost many assistant coaches that had played a key role with the team in recent years, and was unfortunate to see new offensive coordinator Chris Finch depart for a head coaching role with the Minnesota Timberwolves after just a couple of months.
Now, the Raptors find themselves 11th in the Eastern Conference, with a dismal 18-30 record after their 113-103 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, who themselves sit 13th in the Western Conference (20-27).
The Norman Powell trade, which saw the team acquire Gary Trent Jr and Rodney Hood, looks to be one that can help the team long-term, particularly financially, with the former in particular looking to have a bright spark and future ahead of him with the team.
Kyle Lowry remaining is something that could potentially give hope to the Raptors coming back and being competitive in 2021/22, with the veteran guard rumoured to be willing to remain in Toronto beyond this season due to this shared belief in the team.
So the question should be asked: is it time for the Raptors to throw in the towel on this season and firmly focus on the next steps?
The team will start the off-season in a strong situation with three draft picks, though only their first rounder was originally theirs, and could land an excellent prospect if they end up picking within the top five - currently the team is projected to land the seventh overall pick if the season were to end today.
Nick Nurse needs a true starting-quality centre at his disposal, with Aron Baynes showing that he isn't really cut out to be more than a depth option and Chris Boucher being better suited as a power forward.
Rumours and reports suggest the Raptors were considering a deal involving Andre Drummond before sending Powell to Portland, so it's clear the team will look to address this position, and the off-season will give them an opportunity to really add a player that can be a difference maker.
Making the post-season is always the goal for any team, but does sneaking in and potentially being knocked out at the first hurdle really help the Raptors in the long-term?
Toronto could do better with allowing their star players time to recover fully, preparing themselves for a more competitive season next time around, figuring out whether or not Lowry will be around for another go-around - with the potential for a deadline trade should the team ultimately fall short a year from now.
Landing a higher-rated prospect can help the team down the road, having their stars healthy and ready to go next season, and having a clear plan in place for the off-season are all things the Raptors should prioritise over any slim hopes of making the post-season in 2021.
The Raptors are not like some teams in the league, where missing the playoffs signals the start of a long rebuild. The pieces are certainly there, and a couple of tweaks and additions could certainly put them back at the forefront next year, so allowing this season to pass and land a better draft pick should be something the Raptors consider as results continue to get away from the team.