The Main Event: Pull the Trigger vs. Roll with the Status Quo


Whether we like it or not, this season’s trade discussions won’t go away. Wheel and deal or stand pat? Masai, questions are mounting.

Note to self (and anybody else who still has Cable TV):

When setting your PVR to record a Raptors’ game, always remember to extend the recording at least a half an hour past the regularly scheduled 2 hours and 30 minutes.

I should have known better, though, especially after what’s recently taken place. As despite this team’s overall success rate, you never really know what you’re in for regardless of the opposition.

At first (Chicago curse or no Chicago curse), having my viewing experience of Saturday night’s loss cut short just seconds after DeRozan and Lowry failed to seal the deal in regulation left me at a loss for words. And needless to say, my frantic search for any overtime footage only ended up adding fuel to my frustration.

But when you throw in the repeat performance of Sunday’s collapse — I choose to disregard the fact that this team had to go up against one of the league’s superstars for the second straight night — that previous frustration (after a few meditation exercises, mind you) gave way to a bit of perspective:

This past weekend was a fitting representation of this club’s current state of affairs and possible future — i.e. continuously coming full circle, i.e continuously falling prey to their inconsistencies.

To the part of this fan base that’s optimistic at all costs, I get it: A game is just a game that’s just a game that’s just a game. And with the recent road trip from hell, the numerous back-to-backs and the noticeable absence of Patrick Patterson, you get a recipe for understanding. Even with the last two disappointing instalments (albeit with periodic displays of outstanding basketball mixed in) the Raps still sit at 19-2 when leading after three quarters.

However, that doesn’t mean the club’s recent stretch, with Chicago and Houston at the forefront, can’t exist as the evidence needed when determining whether or not to pull the trigger on a trade.

Side Note:

Being that All-Star voting is one of the very few powers fans actually have, I can’t exactly tell you how to spend your time. But, with the season currently trending in a questionable direction, and the risk of falling back to the Eastern Conference pack creeping into the picture, isn’t there much more important things to worry about than whether or not Lowry and DeRozan make an appearance in New Orleans? Hell, a deep playoff run + the Olympics + 37 and 36 minutes per game respectively = What are we really voting for…Increasing their already worrisome workload? There’s better ways to acquire the validation we’re all searching for. #NBAVoteRantOver

Back to that much more important stuff:

Is the trade market the proper route to take to achieve that next step? Well, when it comes to this fan base, as always, there’s no shortage of opinions. Do you happen to fall into any of the following categories?

Allow me to paraphrase:

1. “I’m all-in. Let’s maximize this window of opportunity by doing whatever it takes to acquire that forever missing third piece. Even if it means sacrificing a bit of depth and/or jeopardizing a bit of future stability.”

2. “I’m on the fence. I mean, Jared Sullinger hasn’t even played a regular season minute yet. Wouldn’t he, along with DeMarre Carroll getting healthier as the season progresses, represent trade acquisitions with the added bonus of not having to give anything up? This squad is built on chemistry and the notion of potentially messing with what makes this team tick makes the decision far from a slam dunk.”

3. “Does it even matter? What kind of deal could realistically get done that would put the Raps in a position to compete with the Cavs? The East’s title-holder would have to be in a pretty vulnerable state to think Toronto could eclipse last season. Oh, and DeMarcus Cousins? Are you sure that Mary Jane is just for medicinal purposes?”

4. “Let’s not get our hopes up. The annual complacency shown by MLSE tells you all you need to know about what’s in store for the rest of this season and the near future. The hardcore fans of years past now share a landscape with a new generation of diehard supporters — the Raps’ headliner status isn’t at risk either way. Therefore, even with a rising salary cap, “Luxury Tax” won’t be part of this organization’s vocabulary anytime soon.”

5. “In terms of the roster and style of play, my faith is slipping. Their non-committal approach on defense combined with an over-reliance on a make-or-miss philosophy has taken its toll. Regular season? Sure. Playoffs? Not so much. Even if that long-awaited Power Forward enters the equation, they’d still be one piece away from being one piece away.”

There won’t be a definitive answer until the dust settles. However, “ain’t nobody got time for that!” Isn’t it better to be proactive when you have the chance?

Though, to put this into a proper light, being proactive could also mean ultimately standing pat. And doing so (which I would disagree with) can be interpreted from multiple angles:

A) Masai has enough faith in the progress made by Ross, Bebe, Powell, Poeltl and Siakam for the team to eventually get to the level needed. Odds of that being a current reality = slim.

B) Masai actually views Sullinger as the missing piece. Odds of that being a current reality = relatively high. How his Per-36 numbers from last season (15 points, 12.7 boards. 3.5 dimes, 0.9 blocks, 1.4 steals) will translate, especially after coming off an injury and dealing with a learning curve, is surely up for debate. But do they also suggest he deserves far more credit? Do they suggest he deserves a chance to provide that missing ingredient?

Well, there’s too many variables that have to seamlessly fall into place for his best-case scenario to transpire. And after all, his presence won’t exactly fix the problem when it comes to opposing defences already knowing how the Raps will attack during half-court possessions when it matters most. Still, I don’t think we should doubt his physical intangibles and the fact that he only adds to how flexible this roster can be. Patterson and Sullinger on the court together, even for just limited stretches, helps tie up loose ends.

C) Masai has no intention to do anything because he and the upper brass secretly don’t believe the Raps are a team that’s ready to take advantage of what a potential big-name outsider can bring to the table. And why waste future assets to satisfy false hope?

Odds of that being a current reality = the same odds DeMarre Carroll made up for his defensive debacle in Chicago with his offensive explosion vs. Houston…Meaning: It’s too close to call.

Now, this is where things get tricky:

By now, I assume most of you experienced yesterday’s #WojBomb where Atlanta stated they’re now “pulling Paul Millsap off the trade market.”

Take that maneuver however you like, but I’m not exactly buying it. Sure, Kyle Korver isn’t what he once was, and a future 1st rounder has its obvious worth, but helping the biggest obstacle you would have to face getting there (Cleveland) and actually state you’re planning to compete for the East after the fact can’t exactly be taken at face value.

So, in the spirit of seeing this scenario through (AKA: seeing through the B.S.), let’s see what’s possible:

Salaries always have to come close (enough) and perceived value across the league plays its role. So right off the bat, Terrence Ross would be the first name in any trade package. One that would have to include a first-round pick, as per Atlanta’s trade demands.

And unless a third team speaks up, you’d be hard-pressed to play with the Trade Machine and come up with anything other than a choice between Patterson, Sullinger and Joseph and as the secondary piece and another choice between Powell, Siakam and Poeltl as the third.

Acquiring a player like Nerlens Noel would come cheaper, but any previous noise on that front has since quieted down. As for likes of DeMarcus Cousins and Blake Griffin, the Raps’ track record suggests they’re more than likely not willing to go the extra mile. So, the middle ground that Millsap (and his Bird Rights) represents, suggests Toronto should still be knocking.

But wait, there’s still one last part to this story. And this conclusion revolves around (long shot or no long shot) Kyle Lowry’s potential departure as soon as this offseason. Relax, I did say “long shot” twice.

So much so that I waited to the end to bring this up. Nevertheless, not bringing it up would be failing to do the necessary due diligence.

Many people still scoff at the notion. And the arguments are valid:

Why would he leave a perfect situation? A situation where he owns the master key to an entire country’s worth of basketball fans. He essentially rebuilt this franchise — a team that just re-upped his partner in crime for 5 more years and already roams the ranks of the league’s top 5.

Well, there’s nothing concrete pointing in the opposite direction, so just chill for sec. However, holes can still be poked in the storyline:

His upcoming contract (he’ll be 31 at the time) will be, by all likely accounts, his last chance at signing a max-level deal. Which is all well and good considering the Raps will, by all likely accounts, fork over the cash without hesitation.

We went through this same “hometown calling his name” scenario with DeRozan, but that doesn’t mean the outcome will end the same way. And when an esteemed writer such as Zach Lowe drops a nugget on his Podcast in the form of him believing Philly, who will have ample cap space this summer, will make an effort to pry Lowry away, everybody’s lens shifts into focus that much more.

It doesn’t take more than a quick glance at Philly’s roster to see that quality pieces are in place for the future. They just need a floor general to hit fast forward.

Leading your hometown, a once proud basketball market, back to prominence isn’t a gig to scoff at the way we once did.

And what if Lowry has a bit of lingering resentment towards being traded to the Knicks only to have it fall apart at the last minute? As much as we all like to pretend that we know where a player’s head is at, we don’t know these guys on a personal level.

There is a bright side to this speculation, however. Cause either way, the Raps should take the opportunity to pounce on a window. Lowry’s skills aren’t diminishing (you could even say he hasn’t even peaked by the way he’s producing), but the wrong side of 30 comes sooner rather than later for every player.

Even if any trade acquisition doesn’t re-sign, chances are you solidified Lowry’s return by actually showing you’re willing to go for it with Lowry at the helm. If disaster strikes and neither player re-signs, well, you’ll have the available funds to rectify the situation.

In the end, even though there’s plenty of basketball left to sway the decision-making, the Raps shouldn’t be afraid to push the envelope. By the way, talk about the perfect time for the Celtics to come to town! Appointment television, folks. And if you can’t catch it live, remember: At least a half an hour, OT is always lurking.

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