INDIANAPOLIS – The Raptors probably should be 3-3, are slightly worse at 2-4 instead and there’s an awfully long way to go this season. Yet, why does it seem there’s an aura of doom and gloom permeating the franchise. I’m not even talking about the fanbase, which seems beyond despair at this point, beaten down with pessimism thanks to years of losing both games and star players.
The players seem quite realistic (maybe because most of them were around for 4-19 last year and know how quickly a season can go off of the rails) – things need to get fixed – and quickly. Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert cautioned today that it’s still very early – “The season is 6/82 complete.If the season was a game there would be 8:30 left in the 1st quarter.Let’s calm down,watch a bit more then judge,” Gilbert tweeted – but how you set the tone matter and the winnable games you blow now matter. A lot. Moreso on the tone setting part. You simply can’t lay an egg against bad or medicore teams and get extra pumped for the contenders when the bright lights are shining. That’s a losing mentality, and, unfortunately, has long been a Raptors mentality.
It also could be the way the team has lost games. Not fouling in Charlotte either time (Dwane Casey defended not doing it with 27 seconds remaining and said not doing it in the final seconds was a mistake. The overwhelming consensus has been a foul should have been committed at the 27 second mark), not playing Amir Johnson, the team’s most invaluable player, in the fourth against Miami (granted, he was being saved for a more winnable contest) and then playing five subs to start the second quarter against Indiana, losing all momentum created by Rudy Gay’s sizzling start, as well as the lead. No, it hasn’t been a good week for Casey or his players.
If you’re Masai Ujiri, what the heck do you do? (A lot more on this point coming). If you blow it up, who is buying? Lots of teams are tanking, so they certainly won’t be. Good teams have cap issues and likely will be more inclined to deal once injuries start hitting. If you want to load up to finally end the playoff drought, what area do you upgrade? Philly would love to get big returns for players like Thaddeus Young, Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes, Phoenix would probably part with Goran Dragic, but do you sacrifice the future to get less mediocre and maybe squeak in? If you trade a Lowry, an Amir Johnson or DeMar DeRozan or Rudy Gay what can you get? Who can you replace them with down the line?
The easiest way to get significantly worse would be to move Johnson. But (1) eventually you’ll need a guy like Johnson if you want to win and (2) do you really want to send out a guy who loves the city, represents it well, is putting down roots here and is proud to represent the franchise? Again, this is why Masai gets the big bucks. With his history, rest assured he’s been over all of these scenarios and thought about the domino effect of all of them down the line. It’s a fascinating time for this franchise, what the heck is going to happen? Unfortunately, right this moment, it’s also an uncertain time and the light at the end of the tunnel looks awfully dim.
If you’re all not horribly depressed after reading that, some more thoughts:
- Indiana, is really, really good. Maybe not too exciting, but who really cares? The team is built for the playoffs. The defence is superb. Frank Vogel is an elite coach already. Paul George is one of the few superstars as good defensively as he is on offence and Roy Hibbert is an absolute wall inside. They are tough, a bit mean (nobody tops David West in the scowl department and nobody sneers at referees more often than Lance Stephenson) and the bench has been upgraded from last year’s disaster (though it could still use some help … hey, Danny Granger is supposed to practice next week).
The Pacers know exactly what they need to do to win games. They let Toronto tire by playing lights out early, knowing there was time to rally and ratchet up the defence. I’m starting to regret my pick of Chicago winning the Central, these guys, assuming Granger is able to be a great sixth man, are legit title contenders.
- Kyle Lowry looked far better and was looking to create more than he has this season. He made clever passes, was constantly looking ahead and above the rim for his teammates. Even Lowry seemed a bit frustrated afterward about the shot selection of Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan, which has bordered on atrocious for much of this season.
“We’ve got to get DeMar easier shots. He got his shots, but we’ve got to find a way to get him some easier shots,” Lowry said.
“We’ve got to find a happy medium with those guys, they both can get shots, but they’ve both got to make shots and then make life a lot easier as a point guard.”
- Lowry was also frustrated by offensive foul calls against him in two straight games on shot attempts. “When I go left and shoot, I kick out my legs, that’s what I do,” Lowry said, shaking his head.
- It’s too bad Lowry isn’t more of a pick and roll point guard. Jose Calderon’s defence hurt the club, but no question he got the most out of Johnson and also was perfect for Valanciunas. Those bigs excel in that sort of offence, but can’t show it off here, because Lowry is more of a drive and kick creator and DeRozan rarely passes and Gay seldom does.
“I thought Rudy outplayed him tonight. You can talk about Paul George, but I thought Rudy outplayed him, they won the game, but talking about individual matchups, Rudy played the game he’s supposed to play. Now we need some others to join the party.” – Dwane Casey
“We’ve got to put together a full game. We have spurts where we’re playing as good as any team but we let up and they took advantage of that.” – Rudy Gay
“It’s tough for everybody when any of us (struggle). It’s tough for the whole team when DeMar struggles. It’s tough for the whole team when I struggle. We just have to figure out how we can make both of us comfortable at the same time.”