A Deep Breath for Toronto Raptors Fans

This is a missive to the many Toronto Raptors fans having existential crises every time Pascal Siakam goes 7/23 or Aron Baynes gets roasted by, well, most everyone.

You win one championship and all of the sudden you start behaving like King Henry the VIII of roster decisions.

Trade him. Cut him. Sign him. Bench him. Blow it all to smithereens.

I can at least agree that Terence Davis needs to go — for obvious reasons.

Otherwise, let’s just chill. We have it pretty damn good.

It was not so long ago that we spent every single year wincing in anticipation of hitting our heads on the Derozan-Lowry ceiling come playoffs. I’d get phantom heart-ache pain every time we blew a game against a legitimate contender during those “Golden Era” years. We were so naive.

It wasn’t so long before that when even sniffing the playoffs was a laugh. Or when we deluded ourselves into thinking players like Hedo Türkoğlu, Jermaine O’Neal, Landry Fields, Mike James, Linas Kleiza, and Jason Kapono — I could go on — were going to “put-us-over-the-top”. Then you’d watch a few weeks of games and remember, oh right, there’s a reason why they’d only get paid that kind of money in Toronto.

All I am saying, is, can we just enjoy what we currently have.

We are no longer that pathetic team scrambling to put washed veterans and missed draft picks in and out of the rotation. We have a core of young players signed long-term. We have one of the most enviable farm systems in the NBA. Our coach is the Picasso of defensive schemes. Our President of Team Operations is a Jedi-Mind-Tricks negotiator and doesn’t take shit from anyone including racist-ass cops and racist-ass institutions.

Don’t make me remind you about Sam Mitchell, Glen Grunfeld, Isaiah Thomas, Rob Babcock and the waves of nincompoops we had for decades making incompetent decisions.

Savour this.

I accept that nothing necessarily pans out as one expects. Injuries happen. Individual player progress is not linear and sometimes utterly sputters. Heck, it’s even possible you spend an entire decade and a half with the best player to grace the NBA since Michael Jordan in your conference. Even right now we have at least four of the ten best NBA players in the East — three of whom are in our division.

So, ya, there’s going to be some hiccups. But we knew this day was coming. Bobby Webster and Masai Ujiri knew this day was coming. Let’s embrace this new reality with a different perspective.

B-Dubs and Masai signed Pascal Siakam, Norm Powell, Fred Van Vleet, O.G. Anunoby, and Chris Boucher to set this franchise up for the foreseeable future. Not only are they young and talented, they aren’t finished getting better either.

Most other young teams around the league are celebrated for potential. We, immediately, castigate them for failing to meet the standard of the past two years.

One bumpy patch of losses and Siakam’s name is getting tossed around like he’s Jeff Green. Ship him and picks for James Harden or Michael Porter Jr.

Of course, Harden is a better player; maybe MPJ will become one. But that’s not the dimension this franchise lives within. Harden is a win now trade. Whatever Toronto would have had to give for him would have gutted the team. MPJ is a decision to detonate — more along the lines of a Bradley Beal or Zach Lavine situation.

Besides have you seen what tanking and shedding NBA talent looks like? Atlanta did it and, well, ya know. Minnesota is a mess. New York and Charlotte are coming around after being the laughing stock of the NBA forever. It may make sense on paper, but it can wreak havoc on locker rooms and corrupt raw talent.

Besides Toronto has never been about complete tear-downs nor rebuilds. Masai definitely is not. I don’t anticipate they intend to be one anytime soon.

Losing Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka is the exact evidence you need to understand Toronto’s approach. The team kept them past the trade deadline last year as a calculated risk. It was the correct one; they were one Pascal Siakam away from another conference finals. Losing them in the offseason was collateral damage.

Not resigning them was an even more explicit choice. Keeping veterans around a young team is a careful balance. Too many and you stifle the growth of the future. Too few and qualities like diligence, professionalism, and resiliency are never taught. Teams like Chicago and Minnesota struggle with that right now.

This team is ready for its metamorphosis. To resign Serge and Marc — as much as I love them — is akin to not trading DDR for Kawhi Leonard. It would have been sticking to a preordained status quo.

Kyle Lowry remains the final piece of the old guard. He may be traded this year or not. I am indifferent. If he were available, he would fetch a fair penny. But that decision feels less about business and more about what Kyle wants. He’s earned the Dirk Nowitzki/Kobe Bryant treatment. We can afford whatever he decides.

Yes, this free agency sucked. Aron Baynes is a stop-gap — an aging, underwhelming one — that, admittedly, I thought would be friskier. The rest of the free agency signings were nothing but flyers — some paying off more than others.

But to backtrack on that decision and trade for an immediate upgrade — I have heard Andre Drummond rumblings and even Al Horford as a suggestion — is acting rashly against a measured plan. Management deemed it the right time to move on and fans need to trust that decision.

Maybe we’re stuck in immediacy land. A world of binary expectations: win now or blow it all to hell.

But look back on championship teams. Unless they fortuitously acquired superstars overnight, most had several years of various failures along the way.

All this said, as of today, Toronto is only two games back from third. In the past ten games, they are 7–3 and have the second highest net rating in the league. For lineups that have played more than 100 minutes together, Kyle Lowry, Aron Baynes, Fred Van Vleet, Norman Powell, and Pascal Siakam have the third highest net rating.

A big part of that is Pascal Siakam’s resurgence. In that span, he’s nearly reached the highest net rating of his career and is at his highest in offensive rating— putting him at fourteenth in the league for players playing more than twenty-five minutes a night. He’s taking less jumpers, attacking the rim more, finally hitting his spot-up shots, all while playing stronger defence. Take Siakam off the court this season and Toronto scores six fewer points and allows four more points per 100 possessions.

This season is exactly the kind of up-and-down experience the young Dinos will, and frankly need to, experience. They demand patience in the meantime.

Moving forward, sure, Toronto should consider a couple of small moves to make a push. Filling that centre position with someone agile and girthy enough to kinda handle Joel Embiid should be their primary priority (DeMarcus Cousins and Houston Rockets just parted ways…wink, wink). Good luck with that though. An upgrade at the power forward position might be nice too.

But really this year is an observational one. It's the first that most of these guys have seen such sustained high usage. The franchise needs to see how they deal. Their contracts give them space and time to do so.

Toronto’s future prospects are promising. They’ve already proven last chapter that, as secondary and tertiary options, they can play at a championship level. I suggest you all take a deep breath and see where the next chapter will take them.

Policy Analyst; Strategic Foresight Analyst; Freelance writer; Basketball Opinionist.