When the NBA's offseason began a few weeks ago, the general consensus seemed to be that the Raptors were poised to be a 7-8 playoff seed in the East if they chose to return the bulk of their lineup from last season. This was largely based on the Raptors potential for internal improvement, mixed with the assumption that the bottom half of the Conference would be jockeying for ping pong balls in the lottery process instead of regular season wins. However after watching the first week of free agency play out, that no longer appears to be the case.
A quick rundown of next year's playoff picture...
In barring a major surprise:
The Hawks seemed like a good candidate for a rebuild with the departure of Josh Smith looming over their heads this offseason. However they've replaced him in the starting lineup with Paul Millsap and are reportedly close to adding Monte Ellis or Brandon Jennings in exchange for Jeff Teague. Some would argue that they're actually an improved team heading into next year, and I have them as a playoff team barring a major injury or an internal meltdown.
Most people, myself included, expected that at least two of these teams would be content with toiling near the bottom of the standings for at least one more season for a shot at one of the big prizes in the 2014 draft. Think again.
Washington is a quickly improving roster that is already getting some sleeper buzz going into next season. Cleveland has added more top end young talent (Bennett) and a veteran presence (J. Jack, Earl Clark, maybe even Andrew Bynum) to their already impressive young core. Milwaukee doesn't seem deterred by the potential loss of Reddick/Ellis/Jennings as they're on the market signing players (Delfino, Pachulia, Mayo, Teague) with an eye on staying competitive. Detroit is adding Josh Smith and the 8th overall pick to their lineup and rumours continue to swirl that Dumars isn't finished.
You also have the Raptors in this group, who as of now, have made the least amount of on-paper improvements compared to the teams that they will be battling for the last two playoff spots.
Not impossible, but not likely:
Tanking and Proud of it:
I think we can all agree that the worst case scenario for 2013-14 would be another 9-11 finish in the East, which of course would equal another 8-15 pick in the draft. The chances of the Raptors landing in that range has gone up significantly in just the last week and a half.
With a lot of teams bucking the prediction that they'd be actively trying to lose games next year and the road to the 2014 post season a lot more crowded than many expected, I'm maintaining that the Raptors best course of action is to sell off as many pieces as possible in exchange for picks, prospects and financial freedom. Watching other teams improve all around us only reaffirms this for me.
I don't want this to diminish into another tinkering vs. tanking debate. It's more to discuss the playoff picture for next season and where you feel the Raptors fit in. Also, for those who were advocating that Ujiri "stay the course" with this group... has the last week of free agency shifted your opinion at all?