At this time of year the stores get more crowded and you hear Christmas music where ever you go. It is also the annual time of year the Raptors chances of being a playoff team realistically go up in smoke. While technically with the East being as horrible as it is the Raptors still mathematically could be alive for a long time in the playoff race realistically it is hard to imagine.
Back to back records in futility with losses to Denver and Golden State make you believe this to be the case. The Raptors gave up 72 bench points to the Nuggets while after a change to their starting line-up only produced 16 from their bench. A promising start would get washed away by the play of a bench that was far from acceptable. The change of adding Tyler Hansbrough to the starting line-up and Amir Johnson coming off the bench has amounted to re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic.
If that Denver loss was not bad enough for you the Raptors out did themselves last night in Oakland. Again it was a positive beginning with the line-up change only to see it eventually go down in flames. The Raptors shocked many by going out and lighting up the Warriors. They built a huge lead after one quarter and even built on that to a point where the Raptors led by 27 points. The Raptors would get blitzed in the fourth quarter and go on to lose this game by 9 points. You really have to work to give up a 36 point swing in the span of a quarter and half of action. This is also another Raptors record of failure as it is the biggest lead the team has surrendered in their history.
Many are calling for the head of coach Dwane Casey at this point. While a game like that is one that I think ranks right up their as one that can get you fired I doubt we will see that happen anytime soon. After all the Raptors most likely will be making the shift to rebuild mode sooner than later. Casey’s contract ends at the end of the year and I doubt the Raptors will be in a rush to find his successor. When you consider his calling card is suppose to be on the defensive end these last two games are object lessons in how he is failing in that regard. I am not sure why that is in terms of the players not buying into the system or just not capable of its execution. Given the fact they have at brief points looked solid on the defensive end it could be assumed it is the first suggestion of not buying into it.
It may not seem like it at the moment but this may be looked back on as blessing that the Raptors imploded like this. Masai Ujiri has all the ammo he needs to start the deconstruction of this team now without the strange optics of being first in a division while doing so. The Raptors around this time last year went on a 7 game losing streak that basically ended any hope they had. This year it is a four game losing streak that could grow to that number as well. The Raptors most realistic shot at a win in the next three games comes up on Friday as they take on the Suns. Lakers could have Kobe Bryant Sunday as he is rumoured to return on Friday. As they come home licking their wounds they will face a Spurs squad that is one of the best in the NBA. If you think it will get better as the holidays draw near you might want to check the schedule. The Raptors hit the road prior to Christmas break and play Dallas, OKC and Spurs again just before Santa comes to town.
Perhaps the most disturbing thing in all of this is core people that make up this fan base are not surprised in the slightest when things like last night happen. It has become a case of being something we just have come to expect and in some ways accept about this franchise.
Personally, I become more shocked when things go right for the Raptors than wrong. It is mainly based on a history that screams to us that it is the correct line of thinking. My expression to sum up this feeling is “That’s so Raptors” and it really is.
Masai Ujiri is the latest to come in and have the unenviable task of trying to change that thinking and establish some basis for hope in the future. Even hopeful things Raptors fans have come to see the dark side of though. As an example DeMar DeRozan despite all of this has really taken his game to the next level. Now instead of rejoicing in this, Raptors fans are already considering he will be the next in a long line of players that will want out of this situation to have a chance to win elsewhere. DeRozan has looked increasingly frustrated as of late despite his own personal success. I think that might be jumping the gun a little to think that DeRozan will want to be elsewhere. History suggests at some time he will but I am not convinced that is sooner rather than later.
If I can offer an advice to frustrated Raptors fans it is to not let all of this consume you. I use to be that angry fan that took these things to heart and allowed it to hang over me like a dark cloud. It will only drive you crazy at the end of the day. Instead I take a much more detached approach and do not allow my emotions to get involved as much as possible. There is a life outside of this and as much as we may deem this to be important it is not in the grand scheme of life. It is much easier to say this the day after on of these terrible loses than it is when you have stayed up to the early morning hours watching the team you cheer for blow a lead that seemed to be impossible to lose.
For those hoping for change and not clinging to the false hope that this team was going anywhere, the time of December 15th and the opening of all contracts and realistically the trading season is almost here. Make no mistake the job of taking apart this team will not be an easy or quick process. Masai Ujiri will be earning the money he was paid when he was brought here because this is going to be a challenging endeavour indeed.