CHICAGO – Time will tell if it continues, but as of right now, the Raptors look better at either end of the floor then they have in quite some time. There’s 48 minutes of strong point guard play and less of a burden on Kyle Lowry to play heavy minutes, something he noted after the game. Because the Raptors are off today and I need to fill two pages of the newspaper, PPG will be shorter than usual because the stuff that usually would be here, has to be used for stories.
Will follow up Saturday’s gamer/column where I posited that Masai Ujiri has a tough decision on his hand, but the best move is to take a gamble at landing one of the studs in this year’s draft. Those who hate risk surely disagree. Those who argue the Raptors can’t become bad enough, no matter what they do, to get into the mix, might feel the same. Those who think “Franchise-changers” don’t actually exist probably do as well. But many others also realize that minus Kyle Lowry this squad looks quite a bit less competitive. That if Amir Johnson sadly goes as well, they can’t really compete at all and that franchise-changers do in fact exist and that the best way to be one of the rare teams that has a shot at doing anything, is to add a top talent. Those guys come 85% of the time through the draft. The other 15% through trade or free agency and the Raptors are never in the mix to get them that way.
Getting lots of feedback on this via e-mail and Twitter. Here’s what I’m saying and not saying on trying to get into the top of the draft. My take:
- Again, in order to have a real shot at making the NBA Finals, you almost always need at least one quality top 5 pick. I’m well aware of the argument that No. 1 picks rarely bring a title to their original NBA town, but what about other top 5 guys? And what about just making it to the Finals, let alone winning? From LeBron James (1), Kevin Durant (2)/Russell Westbrook (4), Jason Kidd (2), Dwyane Wade (5), Shaquille O’Neal (1), Rasheed Wallace (4)/Chauncey Billups (3), Tyson Chandler (2), Kevin Garnett (5), Hakeem Olajuwon (1), Dwight Howard (1), Allen Iverson (1), Patrick Ewing (1), Michael Jordan (3) … the list goes on, it’s crystal clear that you need to be led by one (or preferably more) of these guys to have any sort of a chance.
- That’s not to say that the guys in this draft will be as good as LeBron, MJ, Durant or Shaq. Nobody believes they will be. But a bunch of them should be as good as many of those other names. It’s unanimously the best draft in a decade for a reason. Miss on these guys and you’ll likely regret it.
- What I’m not saying: Just give away assets. Don’t trade Lowry or anybody else just for the sake of trying to get bad. While that’s tempting, given the talent available this summer, it’s both a waste of good assets and it sends a terrible message. If somebody doesn’t want to pay up for Lowry, Johnson, DeMar DeRozan, then keep them. They’re all good players, especially Johnson, the guy who has helped the franchise more than anybody else over each of the past three seasons. Extending Lowry makes far more sense than letting him walk. He’s still a decent starting point guard in the NBA and he won’t command huge money. Johnson should be at the peak of his value (I’ve heard different takes on whether this is true, some sources claim teams don’t value him as much as they should, while others say he is a favourite league-wide and would extract a hefty price).
- There’s no doubt continuing the selloff would be a tough course optically for Ujiri. The team has missed the playoffs five years in a row, interest is way down, etc. But it’s time that this organization for once thinks long-term. More short-term pain for quite a bit of long-term gain. All-stars sell tickets, attract eyeballs and win games when surrounded with the right cast. There are going to be a bunch of perennial all-stars in this draft.
- Today’s the day any players signed in the off-season can be traded elsewhere. This should get the market moving a bit.