Tank Nation: Raptors Edition

While the Toronto Raptors are like the step sister to the Maple Leafs when it comes to coverage in this city, they might be in a better position to make a run at the playoffs sooner than the Leafs.

With eleven games remaining in the NBA shorten 66 game season, the Raptors currently sit at 20-35 after 55 games. While the Raptors were in line last week to be one of the worst teams this season, and ending up with a top four draft pick. The resurgence of Andrea Bargnani playing at the pace he did earlier in this season before injury, has found the Raptors winning four of the last five games, with Bargnani averaging 25 points in those five games.

With the victory against the Philadelphia 76ers, the Raptors now sit with the seventh worst record in the league, sitting one full game behind the Detroit Pistons, sitting with the eighth worst record. What does that mean in terms of draft position for this lottery bound team? Well, if the Raptors finish right where they are right now, seventh last, ESPN currently has ranked the player that has been linked to Toronto for the past year in North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes, pretty much falling right into Toronto’ lap.

While I think Barnes is a very good fit for this team, as the team needs to fill a position at small forward, he isn’t the make or break player that analysts had thought when he first enter college basketball last season. Barnes does have a very high basketball IQ, but isn’t the type of player to create his own shot. While he can and will score, a pass first point guard is most likely needed for Barnes to really succeed in this league.

Many Raptors fans are hoping that Toronto would be able to get a new “face” for the franchise like an Anthony Davis from Kenutcky, but unless they completely collapse or the win the ping pong lottery, that isn’t happening, and they are more likely to end up with Barnes or a player similar to him.

Raptor fans should remember that in the 2011 NBA draft, the team with the fifth selection, selected Jonas Valančiūnas, a player who will be an impact player in this league, and maybe the best player to come out of the 2011 draft. Valančiūnas hasn’t disappointed this season in Lithuania, being named in February FIBA European Young Player of the Year, and this past month Valančiūnas playing in his league all-star game leading his team scoring 25 points including one three-pointer, grabbing 13 rebounds and dishing out 6 assists. He was named MVP in that game, with those stats, it’s not hard to see why.

While the addition of Valančiūnas and the hypothetical Barnes may not get the non-hardcore Raptor fans jumping with glee. Adding two players such as these should vault the Raptors right back into the playoff picture, and in this writer’s opinion the division title. Especially when you have to consider that the Atlantic division will once again be weaken next season, as many experts believe Boston will be blown up, and New Jersey may lose all star point guard Deron Williams.

Unlike other sports with so many players needed to make a team competitive, the NBA is reliant on twelve players, and in reality, between seven and eight rotation players who actually see minutes on the floor.

The 2006-07 Raptors won the division title, it’s the only one in their sixteen years in the NBA.  That team was lead by veterans and a young superstar in Vince Carter during that time. But what really made that team great, was how well balanced it was. From top to bottom, each player could contribute to the team. That year the team finished with a 47-35 record in weak Atlantic division. Next years Raptors team, has the chance to be that balanced.

While the Raptors have only made it past the first round only once, fans of the team have the right to have become sour on this team. The Raptors organization hasn’t given its fans much to cheer about the past few seasons especially. But because of these past losing seasons, it has given this team the players who might vault this team back into contention as early as next season. The combination of Ed Davis and DeMar Derozan give the Raptors another couple of young strong assets. Neither of course are superstars, but both are solid NBA players, and can become key contributors to a playoff team.

Adding Davis, Derozan, and Bargnani with Valančiūnas and Barnes, gives Toronto a very strong base, and in the NBA, that makes you a serious contender in terms of the playoffs. While starting point guard Jose Calderon is still under contract next season, but there is a strong buzz amongst NBA circles to suggest the Raptors will make a hard push at Steve Nash this upcoming free agency period after Nash’s Phoenix Sun’s contract expires after this season.

So if the Raptors are able to add a player like Nash to the above base, the assumption would be for the team to amnesty Calderon’s contract, making him a free agent, assuming GM Brian Colangelo isn’t able to move the productive point guard to a team in need of a pass first point such as Calderon.

Otherwise, the Raptors will move forward with Calderon next season, and look to draft a point guard in the following 2013 NBA draft or free agent pool to complete the rebuild.

Of course, not all is rosy with the Raptors, even if you put all these players together it doesn’t make a NBA champion, especially when you consider that the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls are still part of the Eastern Conference last time I checked.

But for this season it was all about re-setting the team culture, by adding Dwayne Casey as the new coach, this team has refocused heavily on defense. To this point, the team is still learning Casey’s system, but if the last five games are any indication, they seem to be getting it. Casey in my opinion, should be extended along with Colangelo. By extending both, it gives the indication to upcoming free agents like Nash, that the team is on the rise in terms of talent, and that the organization is stable.

Toronto is a large market team, even though lots of American journalists are ignorant towards this fact, but if the team were to improve and become relevant again, the Raptors could rival the Maple Leafs within this multi-cultural city of Toronto and surrounding areas.

While the Leafs will always dominate Toronto’s sports media market, the vision of the new ownership is to boast the profile of Toronto’s other winter team, the Toronto Raptors. The Raptors have the most room to grow in terms of revenue compared to the Leafs, and therefore, it would make it a smart business plan to promote the Raptors heavily.

While the Raptors tank nation will continue to hope for loses improving the chance of a higher draft selection. This team either way, should be competitive, and as long as they are winning, they are beginning to change the losing culture that the Raptors have grown accustomed to the past 17 seasons. It’s about time we change our expectations as well of this team, starting next season.


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