The Toronto Raptors are showing signs of coming back to earth after a weekend that saw them able to get one over Minnesota and drop one to a Laker team that is a shell of what it has been. Some of those habits from prior to the Rudy Gay trade are starting to resurface.
DeMar DeRozan struggled throughout the game with the Lakers looked much like the traded Gay. He was forcing shots and killing ball movement. DeRozan alone with Kyle Lowry have been pushed as deserving candidates to head to the All-Star Game next February in New Orleans. This would be the first time a Raptor has been in the Sunday game since Chris Bosh last appeared as a Raptor. If both were successful it would only be the second time the Raptors have sent two players to the game. Vince Carter went many times and once had Antonio Davis along for the ride as an injury replacement.
Maybe all the talk is getting to DeRozan and the Raptors as a whole. This team have never had the experience of playing with expectations night in and night out. Dwane Casey has been preaching his team is not the hunted but the truth is the Raptors are no longer a secret to the rest of the league.
What has also dropped off is the team’s defensive intensity has been inconsistent at best of late. They have been one of the best in the NBA on the defensive end since Gay has been moved. But at times in this Laker game they looked very much like the Raptors of old. They ended up blowing a lead of close to 20 points in this game.
The Raptors have less than 24 hours to re-group to face a team that always gives them headaches in the Charlotte Bobcats in a Monday matinee for MLK Holiday in U.S.
Along with the struggles of DeRozan you can add Jonas Valanciunas to that list. He has gotten into foul trouble and looked visibly frustrated. It has been a real up and down second season for the young Lithuanian. He looked reborn once Gay was out the door but has recently fallen off the map. Chucky Hayes has been playing more minutes of late and doing a better job defensively of late.
What perhaps has been accruing are the Raptors coming to the realization they can get away with winning games when they don’t have their “A” game. This is something Dwane Casey is trying to fight off in his team believing in their hype. But it is hard to avoid in this modern world of social media.
Perhaps the Raptors are reaching a point of balancing out after this amazing run after the trade. It seems fitting where it started with a win over the Lakers and ends with a loss to the Lakers. The Raptors schedule is still pretty favourable and they have a chance to distance themselves from the pack.
While everyone has conceded that the tank has been parked for good the Raptors but is Kyle Lowry’s status as Raptor? He has been a key figure in this run of success for the Raptors. In addition at the time the most intriguing name coming back in the Gay trade was Grievous Vasquez. While Lowry has shined Vasquez has not really looked all that good nor had the opportunity to find many minutes in his back-up roll as a result. Assuming Lowry becomes an All-Star it seems almost insane to think the Raptors would trade him days later at the deadline. It would have a negative impact on their playoff goals.
It is why this run while it has been enjoyable becomes the real story of the off-season for the Raptors. Can they re-sign Lowry and how much will it cost them. It seems clear Lowry is earning more dollars for himself almost on a game by game basis. The Raptors faced a similar situation with Jose Calderon and ended up paying him to the tune of 10 Million Dollars by the end of his contract. It was something that he clearly was not worth at the end of the day. You can argue Lowry is riding a roll just as good if not better heading into his off-season.
This will be the first real test for new management on if anything has really changed in Raptorland. There seems to be an attitude within MLSE to spend money as evidence by the moves they have made with TFC Soccer Club spending a ton of money to bring in from what people that know soccer say are good players. I know little about soccer and really it is the point they spent the money not the results of it.
If the Raptors are willing to be a luxury tax team the amount they spend on Lowry becomes less a concern. It becomes completely about if Lowry wants to be here and if he is offered something with another team that is more attractive to him. The Raptors opponent on Sunday might be a player in this. The Lakers Steve Nash might never be the same and would leave a real hole at the point guard position. L.A will have a ton of money to spend and Kobe Bryant was talking to Lowry at the game on camera. Not saying he was recruiting him right there but the fact they get along makes you think it might be ok with Kobe.
In any case the Raptors between now and the deadline will interesting to keep an eye on. If they are all in for this playoff run which all indications point too they should be a buyer and not a seller. Masai Ujiri has clearly had his original plans for the Raptors reconstruction turned upside down. Which includes what to do about Dwane Casey? Watching Casey get his coach of the month award made it hard not to think back to Bryan Colangelo and Sam Mitchell. Colangelo ended up giving Mitchell a new contract after winning an unexpected Atlantic Division title. Casey seems to be heading down a similar path and will that lead Masai to be placed in the same situation as his mentor Colangelo. Hard to think he won’t be as Casey who was taken to woodshed and had people calling for his head with this team’s terrible start to the season. Speed ahead to today Casey is likely a candidate to win coach of the year.
Success for the Raptors has not changed the amount of questions it has only changed many of them. In the short term are the Raptors regressing more to the team they were prior to the Gay trade or is this just a minor point of slippage. Long term the future of many of pieces of this puzzle have uncertain futures. From all the new additions from the Kings to Lowry and Casey they are all people that Masai Ujiri will need to make decisions on this off season.
The Raptors success in the playoffs might not be as great as their regular season success to this point. Their style of offence and being so dependant on three point shot may not be as easy to function under the more intense defensive attacks in the post season. Raptors have really not been able to know when to knock it off when it isn’t working. The three point shot is a weapon that you need to know when and when not to use it. Something the Raptors have failed to understand at times in these games they are struggling.
The Raptors need to get back driving the ball and getting to the foul line. That is another thing that is impacted on by the over use of the three point shot.
There are no answers at the moment for the short or long term for the Raptors. No one can deny it is more entertaining than tanking. Even if tanking could have been considered a viable option no one is going to claim it is fun or all that interesting.