Following rough weekend Raptors face crossroads
Acquiring Paul Millsap (left) from the Atlanta Hawks is one of the ways the Raps could lock down their league leader status.
2017 has not been particularly kind to the Toronto Raptors so far: a 2-3 start that included back-to-back 4th-quarter blown leads this past weekend. The Raptors surrendered a whopping 252 points in that pair of losses to Chicago and Houston, and were also walloped by the San Antonio Spurs on Jan 3.
Put simply, the Raps are not consistently showing that they belong amongst the NBA’s elite.
Here are three things Toronto should aim to achieve in 2017 in order to be taken seriously as a contender.
Win a game against a legit opponent. The Raptors are a combined 1-8 against the five teams with a better winning percentage (Golden State, San Antonio, Cleveland, Houston and the LA Clippers) so far this season. NBA championships are not won with regular-season victories in January, but it’s difficult to believe Toronto can hang with these clubs without actually proving it.
At some point, the excuses need to stop. Somewhat unfortunately, the Raptors don’t have many remaining games against these teams, but making a statement in those contests would inspire far more confidence than beating up on Eastern Conference bottom feeders.
Don't burn out Kyle Lowry. The engine of the team needs some maintenance. Lowry remains amongst the league leaders in minutes played per game and is obviously vital to the team’s success.
That said, reducing his time on the court in less-challenging matchups (or sitting him completely) would go a long way towards preserving their star point guard for the playoffs. The Spurs often implement this strategy of resting their impact players, as does Cleveland with LeBron James.
Since it would take a rash of significant injuries or a complete collapse for the Raptors to miss the postseason altogether, there’s little to no downside to limiting Lowry’s usage to keep him fresh come mid-April.
Trade for an impact player. It may be an unpopular opinion amongst Toronto’s passionate fanbase, but it’s quite possible that this is as good as the team is going to get, at least as it’s currently constructed. With the trade deadline six weeks away and the Cavs already making a move to upgrade their roster with the addition of sharpshooter Kyle Korver, the Raptors cannot realistically expect to stand pat and hope for the best.
There are plenty of rumours surrounding Atlanta Hawks power forward Paul Millsap, who has long been an ideal fit for the Raps with his versatility and tenacity at the 4.
Other than adding “The Paper Boy”, Toronto GM Masai Ujiri could make a huge splash at the deadline by prying away mercurial big man DeMarcus Cousins from Sacramento. That would no doubt entail a huge package of players and draft picks, eroding the Raptors’ depth. But gambling on Cousins could pay serious dividends.
If the results so far this season are any indication, the status quo doesn’t appear to be good enough, and a big move — along with some key wins and strategic resting of players — could be what the Raptors need to truly reach the level of the Cavs, Warriors and Spurs as NBA title favourites.