The summer slumber is near over and the commitment to the Raptors will soon be renewed. The off-season brought with it much-welcomed winds of change, something the franchise desperately needed after years of neglect under Bryan Colangelo. Having said that, the roster Colangelo assembled hasn’t been culled, only amended. The key cogs in the machine remain, and the newcomers are the ilk of D.J. Augustin, Dwight Buycks, Austin Daye, and Tyler Hansbrough, only the latter being a name that might garner interest.

Rudy Gay, DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Amir Johnson, Terrence Ross, and most importantly, Jonas Valanciunas form this year’s training camp core, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that only one of them come close to being on the ‘untouchable’ list, and that too not entirely based on results, but more on potential. Looking at it from Masai Ujiri’s perspective, he has little choice but to play the cards he’s been dealt, and his approach so far has been three-folds:

  1. Take advantage of the shifting Eastern landscape by keeping the roster competitive enough to keep fans interested
  2. Avoid change for the sake of change which would result in a reduction of talent at the benefit of 2014 cap space (e.g., Detroit’s Gay offer)
  3. Allow Dwane Casey to coach a roster he stands behind, without any front-office interference (big one!)

The loose talk of aiming for the playoffs is as much a product of the state of the Eastern conference as it is the quality of the roster. On the other hand, the getting “bad to get better” verbiage has also been thrown around, no doubt with a sideways glance to the star-studded 2014 draft.  No matter what happens, the 2013-14 season will get us to one of two places:

  1. Into the playoffs as a late seed, which would do well to remind the rest of the league that there’s a team in Toronto
  2. Into the Andrew Wiggins sweepstakes

Neither are bad results, and in either case Ujiri will have an opportunity to reset the coach and adjust the roster in 2015, especially if Rudy Gay decides to forego the final year of his contract in hopes of securing a longer deal paying a higher amount.

If you take the “big three” approach to things, the Raptors would like to be in a position where Valanciunas, DeRozan, and Lowry form that trio, with Johnson and Gay being complementary parts. On the surface, if everyone clicks and plays to their full potential, this could produce some results. However, that’s where coaching comes into play. It’s an area where the Raptors took a step back last year, and one where I’d argue, a tremendous amount of improvement needs to happen.

This is a year where .500 guarantees the playoffs and the Raptors were seven games off that pace last season. It’s an achievable target and I can easily recall seven instances last season where key coaching decisions ultimately cost the game. Can Dwane Casey’s improvement as a head coach, a deeper roster, a weaker East, and greater autonomy make up that gap? I think so, and I’m picking the Raptors to make the playoffs.

  • Roarque

    Zarar, well said. I for one believe Masai has a plan and that he will respond as necessary to make this team worthy.

    • FLUXLAND

      In MU we trust!

  • Hot Water

    “No matter what happens, the 2013-14 season will get us to one of two places:

    1. Into the playoffs as a late seed, which would do well to remind the rest of the league that there’s a team in Toronto
    2. Into the Andrew Wiggins sweepstakes”

    You do realize that there’s a third option – ending out of the playoffs in the East’s 9-11 range with a lottery pick somewhere between 8-15 – right? And this happens to be where every credible news source covering basketball has the Raptors pegged this year.

    • Nilanka15

      Well technically what Arse wrote wasn’t wrong. Finishing in the East’s 9-11 range is still in the “Wiggins Sweepstakes”.

      • Bendit

        Technically correct but with the team dangerously close to the margins a position just out of the playoffs garners a draft position with a very very low probability of hitting the lotto. MU has to make a descision by Dec. end which way to go. I am tired of the mushy middle.

      • Hot Water

        Yes, technically the Raptors would be in the Wiggins sweepstakes with a 9th place finish in the East, much in the same way that Roseanne Barr was in the race to be the President of the United States in 2012.

        • pran

          chicago got derrick rose after finishing ninth, it isn’t entirely impossible. Kyrie Irving was initially the clippers pick, they finished 9th that season I believe. So it has happened before.

    • Cordy

      As the roster stands, 9-11 is a very practical possibility that could unfold. The roster will be competing for a bottom seed, and barring injury and counting significant chemistry/growth/attitude change/coaching improvement it could be very possible to accomplish.

      What I think is important to remember is we now have MU, this man knows the game and I seriously doubt he will put together a team/ or even keep a team together that will max out at that level. If it needs to blow up he will be the first to pull the trigger and continue to fleece fellow gms. If he sees potential he will find where we are lacking and shore the gaps to push us forward. I do think the coaching additions and player development additions we have made have all been underrated as well, and will seriously bring about a change for the raptors in efficiency on the offensive and defensive ends.

      So as we stand we could easily be 9-11, but thats not how the season will end because our roster won’t be the same by the end. In MU we should all trust, at the very least we can hope for some direction this year and not a bunch of overpriced indecision and bad immediate gratification choices

      • Hot Water

        Decent point, and I’d like to think that you’re correct re: Ujiri and his willingness to tear this thing down if the team is floundering during the season. My point was that maybe this should be the type of analysis provided in the original article – not painting the upcoming season as something of a win-win scenario where we either a) make the playoffs! or b) end up with a shot at Wiggins! The reality is that there’s a lot of murky grey area in between those two end goals and the Raptors appear to be heading towards it as currently constructed.

        • SR

          Murky is right. I think the most likely outcome this season is a 7-10 seed finish and a 7-15 draft pick. Unless things go horribly wrong right from the start, this team won’t draft high enough to land a franchise-changing talent – there’s too much competition heading into the lottery to “wait and see” and still land a top 5 pick.

          It looks more and more like this roster transition is going to take 2-3 seasons – the time it takes for major contracts to expire, to acquire sufficient draft talent while drafting late lottery or worse, and the window needed to land a significant FA or make a significant trade with no obvious top-tier trade bait on the roster.

          I’m fine with that, but for me the initial Obama-esque “change/hope” that accompanied MU’s arrival is quickly fading. I’m settling in for the long haul.

        • cordy

          Exactly! Not quite a win-win. As we stand it’s very possibly a 9-11 (lose) until Ujiri makes his moves.
          I really can’t think of a time the raptors haven’t tumbled into a season without a bunch of grey area though, and my only real hope is that by the time we enter off season there will be a whole lot less grey, and something new we haven’t experienced; direction.

    • arsenalist

      Don’t discount the NBA-factor. That lottery is rigged, and if the Raptors get there, they’re getting a top three pick.

      • ItsAboutFun

        I think it’s not possible to rig the current methodology, but I’m interested in how an intelligent, reasoned person believes it can be. How do you feel it can be rigged?

        • SR

          They also staged the moon landings just outside of Las Vegas. I’m pretty sure David Stern was one of the film editors.

          In other news, Raptors Republic is now selling Raps-themed tinfoil hats. An extra $5 and they’ll write your favourite player’s number on the side with a Sharpie.

          • Andre Julian Ward

            lolll

      • raptorspoo

        Stern is gone… so you can probably forget about that possibility

      • Hot Water

        Please tell me this was a troll attempt.

  • Jamie D

    If this team isn’t in a winning direction by mid-season then I believe MU will pull the plug on Casey and trade away our best assets for some future pieced and prospects to either A) Get us into the playoffs or B) Completely sh*t the bed in order to have the chance for Wiggins.

    • http://www.wearingfilm.com/picketfence/ Tim W.

      By midseason, it will probably be too late to really make a run at a top five pick. Too many teams will already be “ahead” in the race. If Ujiri hasn’t blown up the team by New Year’s, then I think that’s an indication the team’s only goal is to make the playoffs.

      • Nilanka15

        Even New Year’s might be too late.

        • http://www.wearingfilm.com/picketfence/ Tim W.

          You’re probably right. End of November might be the point of no return. I’m guessing they’ll be around 5-10, by that time, which will hopefully be enough evidence that blowing the team up is the best way to go.

          • pran

            Is it possible that Ujiri wants to blow up the team all along? He’s only waiting so he can get more value than expiring contracts for rudy gay (see detroit) and kyle lowry, while simultaneously not letting the fans know we are tanking.

            I Can’t help but think Demar Derozan would be an excellent tank commander as he can score (rather inefficiently), but does little of anything else to help us win. And that would be enough to keep fans mildly interested while we tank.

  • Brian Gerstein

    I would be shocked if they don’t make the playoffs, given the number of teams who have already gone into major tank mode by their off-season roster moves. When you factor in the players who will log the minutes already in a comfort zone with each other, they will improve by osmosis there, so the only thing that could derail the playoffs are major injuries to multiple key players. Even Casey’s coaching won’t be enough to stop that from happening. Let’s hope that if Ujiri’s goal is to make the playoffs, that Casey is able to learn from his many mistakes last year. Butch Carter made an excellent point on how the head coach has to be able to manage all aspects of the in-game coaching, and not defer to assistant coaches. It is the only way to get the respect of your players and for them to know who is calling the shots. Casey clearly tried to do just that, but failed miserably, on both ends of the court last year. If he can bring back our defence from 2 years ago, at least that will be a start, and he has to make the offence work, by incorporating Jonas a lot more than he has in the past.

    I do have mixed feelings as we will make the playoffs, as the 2014 draft is of course not just about Wiggins, but the other exceptional talent that runs deep, for every lottery team who qualifies. I am still pissed about Casey winning useless games contrary to Colangelo’s wishes when we ended up with Ross instead of Barnes which would have been a no-brainer at that point, hell, we even lost the coin flip to Golden State to grab him even with Casey doing his best to screw things up, and even drafting Drummond with our pick would have made sense, if only to move him as a marketable asset, something that Ross clearly is not.

    It is possible that the #8 seed will be won by a sub .500 team, as we will see tank mode as we have never seen before this year, and I predict that the integrity of the league will be a major topic of discussion come March/April.

    • Hot Water

      It’s true that a few teams have fired up the tank in a manner that hadn’t previously been done so blatantly or early in a season, but it doesn’t mean that the Raptors path to the playoffs is going to be so easy that you should be “shocked” if they miss out on the postseason. Miami, Chicago, Brooklyn, New York, Indiana, Atlanta, Cleveland, Detroit, Toronto, Washington and Milwaukee all plan on being playoff teams. Three of those teams will end up disappointed and right now it appears that the Raptors have as good a chance as any of them to end up on the outside looking in.

      • Brian Gerstein

        Maybe shocked was overstating it. The road is not that easy as it appears based on the teams we are competing with. After the 4-16 start last year that alone will not be repeated, and with Lowry in a contract year, I do expect him to have a much better season. I still say if we stay healthy we will make the playoffs. A lot can happen in the course of an 82 game season.

  • dc

    Colangelo may have had his faults, but neglecting the franchise was plainly not one of them.

    • Sig

      What is that even supposed to mean?

      • malefax

        It means he was if anything too busy. It means he wasn’t neglectful, unlike what the post said. Was the comment confusing somehow?

        • Sig

          Hold on..

          So what you guys are trying to say is that the General Manager of a professional basketball team deserves to be praised because he/she did not neglect it? Because they do a job they’re payed to do like everyone else in this world? What?

          • malefax

            Where did anyone say he deserves praise?

            • Sig

              Well if that wasn’t the case, why is there a need to mention thit at all? Are there people accusing Colangelo of purposely doing a very bad job? that’s absurd

              • malefax

                this is not complicated.

                Article says: bry co neglected the franchise!
                we say: that was not the problem
                you say: why do you think bry co was awesome?
                i say: that’s not what we said
                you say: i do not understand anything in between ‘bry co was bad on purpose’ and ‘bry co was the awesomesauce’

                mamba out

                • Sig

                  me say: i no see part in article where mention of neglect franchise. apparently me mistake. me leave now.

  • Edgar

    I think we all know by now that Masai is keen on “maintaining flexability” aka ride with what we have until he thinks playoffs are unlikely and then shed some useful pieces to other teams for 75 cents on the dollar. Something that seemingly hasn’t been evaluated by the blogasphere is probable ways he could accomplish the transition to tank mode.

    Step 1 seems the most obvious – get rid of your most talented player (Rudy) for expiring contracts and/or prospects/pics. Since it was reported – a probable partner would be the Pistons for expiring Stuckey and Charlie V and hopefully a middle to late first rounder or several second rounders/prospects. Unfortunately this rotation team without Gay is likely still not bad enough…

    The real question is who’s next? IMO Amir is a good piece to hold on to which leaves Lowry and Derozan left. Lowry is 2-3 years older but also has a gritty skillset that would be hard to replace (he also might bolt after this year if he gets sick of the organization) but he would also be easier to move. Derozan is locked in at roughly his market value, is younger but also has a less flexible game and weaknesses that need fixing (also need to take back more salary). My vote is Lowry with the hope that we can steal him back for under $10 mil as a free agent (risky). Ultimately both may have to go to ensure a bottom 5 seeding without getting injury help…

  • Sheptor

    While I expect the roster to be “blown up” before xmas if the results are not there, I further expect the Raptors to have a respectable record by xmas and the blowing up will be more of a quick make-over to bolster our roster for the second half stretch. This make-over will involve the trading of a wing or two/draft pick for a big. I can see even Ross being moved by x-mas if Landry comes to play this year with the goal of this move being to get another young big in exchange. Someone is the odd man out and our depth chart looks outta whack. We’re thin at the 5, because I want no part of Amir playing there. Hopefully Masai pulls a good one out, but I fully expect by xmas for this roster to be changed one way or another. MU just needs to see what the first two months results are.

    • SR

      Whoa, Terrence Ross @ $2.7 mil. is the least of their concerns. Who do you swap him for?

      The problem is that $30 million are tied up in Rudy Gay, Kyle Lowry, and Landry Fields. Theoretically, that $30 mil. should be broken into two $15 mil.-ish contracts – there are MANY all-stars being paid in that range (Marc Gasol, James Harden, Russel Westbrook, Tony Parker, etc.). Conceivably the Raptors could be paying two all-stars for the price of Gay/Lowry/Fields.

      Then there’s the DeRozan debate @ $9.5 mil…

      You don’t need to replace all those guys, but I’d say at least two of them have to be replaced with higher-calibre players if you want to use the “C” word around here (Championships, guys). My greatest fear is re-signing Gay and Lowry. Even if they get reasonable contracts, there won’t be enough left over to take this team to the next level. They’ll peak, even under optimal conditions with internal development, as a mid-seeded playoff team.

      • Sheptor

        Ross is the easiest to move with most upside. Great trade bait for a team loaded with wings and in need of another big. The scenario I presented was if the raps are playing well and pushing for the playoffs in second half. Chances are gay will be a big contributor to this if it happens and as I said if Landry finds his game then Ross becomes somewhat expendabl. If MU finds a trade for Landry instead that gets us a good big then by all means pull the trigger. But I wasn’t talking about the complete blow up of the roster. If we do that then yes Gay Lowry and fields are the first to be looked at to move. The problem is everyone looks at those contracts as bad (which they are) but if the Raptors are winning games then they are the same contracts other teams that are winning have as well. Hence the direction will be decided by Xmas one way or the other

        • SR

          How about T.Ross for Ed Davis, straight up? Memphis doesn’t have enough minutes in the post for Ed, and they need perimeter shooting.

          • edgar

            don’t we need perimeter shooting? lol

        • Dr. Scooby

          To be clear, Lowry’s current contract is not bad at all, if fact its quite good. Its the next Lowry contract you need to worry about.

  • Caprice

    Question why is everyone on Rudy Gay? Yes analytically he is not a franchise player but just a year ago the team was on whos shoulders? Thats right 7’0 feet of non rebounding hardly hitting a shot…Bargnani…… So comparing both players at there current status Rudy wins hands down, at their prime I might still go with Rudy due to the fact Barney never really intimadated the lane. So moral is Rudy is right now technically our best player until Jona averages a double double or kyle does, theres not enough talent on this team to be writing off Gay (and yes hes paid a ridiculous amoutn but BC knew this b4 inking him)