Let’s say for the arguments sake that the current incarnation of the Raptors have enough firepower to squeak into the playoffs this season, OR, they decide instead to pull a DNP – MGMT decision and try and enter the Wiggins sweepstakes. Which side of the fence do you fall on?
If you chose the latter, you’d be wrong. I know what you’re going to ask next – ‘But what if it meant we landed Wiggins?’ That’s not even a trick question, or trick answer…you’re still wrong. Why? Well I’m glad you asked; let’s get into shall we?
Going into this season we are blessed to have a man running the show, who actually knows how to run a show (Tim Leiweke). His stance on things makes me swoon like a girl weak in the knees. I love the confidence and his firm grasp on what direction he believes MLSE needs to go in. Oh, I also love the ‘SHUT THE FRONT DOOR!’ attitude he displays, especially on the usually unrelenting Toronto media. Mark my words he will slap someone with a steak one day…if that hasn’t already happened.
Then you have Ujiri; I’m a lazy writer, so I’m not getting into it why this guy is good. If you don’t this by now, then reading this isn’t going to help you.
So why is this year important? More succinctly why is this year more important than others?
Sometimes you have to look past a deep draft (2014) that is fast approaching, and what it ‘could’ mean for your franchise. The Raptors must do this, despite the amazing talent. I mean the Canadian talent. I mean the amazing Canadian talent (Wiggins) who is drawing LBJ comparisons and has stated he would like to play for the Raptors! Yes, (sigh) the franchise needs to ignore the siren call of the tank.
Why it’s paramount not to tank has a couple of vitals reasons, and here they are:
1) The development of the current roster
The Raptors are young, like really young, but in that youth is a bastion of talent. The easiest piece to pick out is Jonas Valančiūnas. This is a pivotal year for the young center. It’s his team if he wants it. I’m never one to believe that summer league is any type of indicator, because if that were the case then Marco Belinelli and Anthony Morrow would be the greatest players in the NBA. However, he’s shown that he can bang, he’s more physical, and he can get to the line. In other words, progress. I still think he’s going to need to put more on the frame, but the game is there, the mechanics, and the mentality of tough play. I think Tyler Hansbrough is going to be great at showing him a little more of that toughness.
2) Erasing any notion that we are a tanking team, Soft, or, the Northern Bobcats
Tanking hurts a franchise and its players and fans from a mental perspective, as well from a revenue standpoint. As a team mate or professional athlete, what inspires me to want to go to a team that is in a constant state of ‘rebuilding’ or ‘tanking’ other than money? Sure money can be a motivator, but does it motivate enough quality talent. After all who looks forward to the drudgery of constantly losing? If I’m a regular season seat ticket holder how am I supposed to be excited about a tank year? What if the tank fails? From a revenue perspective, why on earth do I want to support a team that tanks for talent? That means, I, as a payer of someone’s salary at MLSE has to endure an intentionally sub-par season for at best a %25 chance at a good draft pick…no thanks. Again, the Raptors and MLSE made their power play (I presume) in an effort to erase that stigma, and to signal to all the talent in the NBA that this is a franchise you’d want to play for.
3) Losing needs to become a byproduct of simply a bad team
I don’t believe that this years Raptors are a bad team, ok, there’s a chance, but overall I feel a slight optimism. This year fans don’t expect much, so why not try and exceed those expectations. That’s exactly what the Raptors need from their fans. Tanking isn’t going to help the overall mindset, but a team that works hard, plays hard, leaves it all on the floor, is going to garner the respect from the fans and from other teams around the league, regardless of the record. Ujiri needs to show the city that he’s not going to rest on his laurels and that Leiweke has his back as well. That has to be a big part of what the new management is trying to instill in its day-to-day operations. I think Dwayne Casey has the potential to be a good coach, he’s still new as a head coach, and I’m willing to give him the chance as long as I don’t see more than one game decided by three or less points this season.
Basketball in Toronto is in a fragile state right now, with its fans, the perception of the Raptors around the NBA, and especially the organization as a whole. ‘Dialing it in’ or ‘tanking’ won’t accomplish lofty plans for the future (James touched on this earlier last week - click here). It’s going to have to be a hard trudge, confronting the years hardened labels cast down on the Raptors head on, and creating a new identity that fans can support now, and down the road. That’s why tanking is not an option.