We’ll never know since Masai Ujiri is unlikely to fess up to it, but I wonder what his intent was in the Rudy Gay trade. If it was to raise the white flag, then this entire season is the ultimate antithesis of Ujiri’s intent. In either case, I’ll take it since whatever his intent may have been doesn’t shadow the results that have followed.
Teams often end up reversing their fortunes by executing transactions that they had full confidence in at the time, just take a look at Amare Stoudemire to NY, Dwight Howard to the Lakers, Greg Oden over Kevin Durant, the list is endless. This is then chalked up to bad luck, poor drafting, and general failure to predict the future, a near-impossible task. In the Raptors case, the opposite seems to have happened and Ujiri just may have gotten it all right by getting it all wrong. This doesn’t bother me as much as it does other people since the results are what matters, rarely the intentions.
I do have confidence in Ujiri and it has nothing to do with the Gay trade. He seems to be a patient man looking to secure the long-term good of the franchise rather than bathe in short-term benefits, which is quite ironic given that his detractors accuse him of not taking the long view. For example, people criticize him for not flipping Kyle Lowry for a 2014 pick as if that was ever an offer, without ever realizing that even if the Raptors lose Lowry for nothing, the money he would have been paid could be parleyed to players like Greg Monroe or Eric Bledsoe this summer, netting the same effect (i.e., instead of a pick you get a starting-caliber player). Things aren’t quite as snug as I described that, but you get the point: losing Lowry for nothing frees up money to pay for free-agents.
Whatever your opinion of DeMar DeRozan may be, he is coming to be the kind of player that, dare I say, could be used to lure free-agents. Instead of having universal appeal and charm, he makes up for it in grit and pure results. If I’m Eric Bledsoe and I’m offered a contract by the Raptors, I’m looking hard at the possibility of forming a 2/3 punch with DeRozan. I’ll go as far as to state that DeRozan’s current appeal far exceeds whatever Chris Bosh had at any point in his Raptors tenure. DeRozan’s a wing player that isn’t plagued by selfish bouts, is an extremely committed individual, and has a growing reputation that is far different from the “fake toughness” that is to this day Chris Bosh’s watermark.
At the start of the season we had an expectations that perhaps Jonas Valanciunas and DeMar DeRozan might lead the charge and become top-level players. It turned out that Terrence Ross has arguably overtaken Valanciunas, Lowry has been the most impactful player, and Valanciunas’s development isn’t as linear as we had supposed. As they say, man proposes, God disposes. It could now be that Valanciunas – a player considered untouchable last summer – is the asset that could be flipped to better the team rather than Lowry or even Ross. It’s pure speculation to even go there, yet it helps outline the possibilities that are in play this summer.
None of this even touches the draft where available point guards include Tyler Ennis, Vasilije Micic, and Jahii Carson. Nor does it consider that pretty much the entire Denver Nuggets team is on the block, not to mention similar situations in Minnesota and other clubs. Sign-and-trade options for Lowry aren’t talked about enough as well. Add all this together and it becomes foolish to suggest that the Raptors have locked themselves into mediocrity by winning in 2013-14. This is a very unpredictable period for the Raptors, a time where they have done well to acquire assets, retain their pick in a loaded (although, in my opinion, overrated) draft, and trim their payroll and contracts where the only truly “bad” contract is Landry Fields. All this adds up to extreme flexibility and thus implies unpredictability.
I’m enjoying this season and it’s not because I’m a happy-go-lucky fan that lives in the moment and doesn’t give a thought to the future. I have given it a thought and see more possibilities to get better than suffer a reversal.