It has been hard for me to realize that the NBA Season is just around the corner. Training camp is set to open at the beginning of next month. In my reason conversation with Jack Armstrong he mentioned that he has no idea what to expect from the Raptors this season. He is not alone in that thought. I really can’t figure out where the Raptors will end up. I more importantly can’t figure out where it is best for them to end up for the future of this franchise.
If you look at the Raptors in the context of the Eastern Conference they seem to fall in somewhere between 6-10 in the conference, which is the worst possible place to be for the growth of a franchise. This is a team that does have talent but not enough talent to be considered a real contender. This is not to say they need to be at this point.
What is the problem and what you need to determine is what is the growth and upside of these players as individuals and as a collective group. If you can’t see a large upside to the players or the collective group you have some real problems.
That is where I have some issues with where the Raptors sit currently. Let’s examine that a little bit on who truly has upside on this roster. Jonas Valanciunas is the one player that we all can agree has the most upside at this point. It is believable that he could develop into an NBA All-Star talent at this point looking forward. After that things get pretty cloudy. Terrence Ross the other notable rookie on the Raptors has almost regressed and not improved. He looks much more like he will be one of these guys that wins a slam dunk title and never really develops as a player. He would end up on a list with guys like Gerald Green, Fred Jones and others.
Amir Johnson is a guy that has almost maxed out in what he is capable of at this point. While his age would suggest he still might have some room left to improve his number of years in the league says not so much. DeMar DeRozan has had a bit of a roller coaster ride in terms of development. He is still for the most part heading in the right direction but is a long way from the comparisons to Tracy McGrady or Vince Carter that people talked about when he was drafted. Heading into year four can we realistically ever expect him to reach that level of All-Star level talent? I want to say yes to that but if we are being blunt and honest about it that is less likely to happen than you would hope.
Raptors acquired both Rudy Gay and Kyle Lowry in the last year. Both have been touted as plays on the verge of being All-Star talents but they have never really got to that level. After a few years of being considered on verge of something you need to get there. Gay is likely much closer than Lowry to reaching that level. He did have off-season eye surgery to improve his vision. This should make an improvement in his shooting you would have to figure. What it doesn’t fix is what ultimately could be his problem which is durability. When you hear back problems at such a young age that is a huge red flag for both durability and longevity. The Raptors will soon have to make a call on Rudy Gay’s future with this team. He will have to make that same call on if he wants to remain a Raptor. I don’t think either side is or should be certain at this point.
In terms of Lowry the writing seems already on the wall to a point. He was not offered an extension to his contract and will enter this season motivated to earn a contract as a free agent. This in the short term is great but in long term is problematic. Let’s say Lowry lives up to the hype that came with him when Bryan Colangelo traded for him. He comes out and as a season worthy of All-Star consideration. That is great for this year but causes a problem on if you can keep this guy here in Toronto. If he has a season that does not meet those standards and we still have questions about what he will be that is a problem as well. What are you going to have to pay to keep a point guard that you are not 100% convinced can be your foundation at the position for years to come? This will likely lead to Lowry getting paid too much at the end of the day.
We could go on and talk about everyone on this roster but in reality the Raptors as individual pieces and as collective group have more questions than answers.
This all in a year where there is a without question game changing talent at the top of the draft from Canada that wants to be a Raptor. You can see why the Raptors paid Masai Ujiri a lot of money to come here. The decisions he has a head of him will be difficult and will shape the future for this franchise both in the short and long term. I don’t envy him in the slightest; I have never been someone who dreams about being the guy calling the shots for a NBA Franchise. I realize how difficult that is to do. What I do know is that the first couple months of the Raptors season should define the final four months and the direction this team takes. What direction that will be is perhaps the most interesting question about this team of all.