Sometimes you get that feeling that you just realized something important and you want to share it! And although, to yourself, it appears to be so obvious, it's really hard to lay out these thoughts in a comprehensive and convincing manner, especially when you're speaking of something abstract. So you start drawing parallels, do comparisons... but it ain't easy. Some smart guy in the room, who's among the first ones to get a grasp of what it is that you're trying to say, will stand up and drop it: "...but that's like comparing apples to oranges..."
That's the problem with comparisons of abstract things. Like a comparison of the qualities of two basketball teams. It's not science and it's something that is subjugated to your personal opinion until you get the facts. And in case of team sports, it's the results.
Results is exactly what we're lacking as of right now with this team. Who can say for sure, that this current Raptors success is sustainable? Will it last over the next couple of games? A month? This season? Is it something we can build on for years to come?
I honestly don't know. I'm just excited with what is going on. The Raptors are playing exceptional basketball since the Rudy Gay trade and they make me feel like, you know, I met this amazing new girlfriend a couple of weeks ago.
And while my hormones are going wild, I try to figure out who she reminds of. Oh, yes... it feels a little like the Detroit Pistons in 2002!
Apples and oranges?
To me it's more like comparing apples in Ontario to apples in Michigan. You see, there are a lot of links here. Ontario produces about 40 per cent of Canadian grown apples and Michigan got it's first apple tree from Canada all the way back in 1796. Now they got a vast variety of apples growing in that area.
Apples are great, but more important - at least basketball wise - is that the Pistons got Chauncey Billups in 2002 and they won the NBA Championship in 2004. A team devoid of any real superstars, featuring a couple fringe all-star players, terrorized the Eastern Conference with their unspectacular but gritty play-style for a better half of a decade and in the process, as mentioned above, won a ring for the hard nosed people of the city of Detroit.
Kyle Lowry - our Billups?
The situation isn't exactly the same. But it's similar. Billups came off his breakout season in 2001/2002 with the Timberwolves. They won 50 games before they were swept by Dallas in Round 1 of the playoffs, with Billups averaging 22 points per game in the series. After his breakthrough season, Billups became a free agent. Billups had wanted to return to Minnesota, however the Timberwolves were engulfed in salary-cap issues. In June 2002, Billups ended up signing a six-year, $35 million contract with the Detroit Pistons to be the team's new starting point guard. He and the Pistons never looked back from that point on.
Should we extend Kyle Lowry and hope he becomes "the Billups" to our "own Pistons"? We sure do not have the same salary-cap issues that the Wolves had. Even though the Wolves still had Garnett, they never won anything and eventually also lost Garnett. Can we realistically replace Kyle Lowry with someone better before the trade deadline or in the upcoming free-agency this summer? Do we want to follow the Pistons model? Do we end up as the Timberwolves who failed to re-sign Chauncey and missed out on a possible chance to win it all?
Assuming that it's too late to go into a full tear-it-down mode (which it obviously is), Masai has to seriously consider extending Kyle before it's too late for that too. He won't be able to sign him to that same moderate contract that the Pistons were able to sign Billups to, but I trust Masai to do the right decision and he just might be able to convince Lowry to accept a reasonable amount of money and stay with the Raptors. Maybe Masai has some other tricks up his sleeve, but I don't see too many options when it comes to covering the PG spot, especially when considering the Raptors are NOT tanking anymore.
So comparing these Raptors to the 2002 Pistons basically starts and ends with Kyle Lowry. We lose him, we go another way. But if we keep him, can we really pull it off and succesfully copy the Pistons model?
Raps have their perimeter players playing tenacious defense and their bigs are protecting the rim like it's a sacrilege, grabbing boards on both ends. The team as a whole seems to play tenacious defense for the entire 48 minutes. On offense the ball is being shared without getting stuck in someone's hands for too long. They're knocking down open threes and they also got that mid-range game going with their SG, PF and some bench players doing some damage from there. Their sophomores are coming into their own and look more and more like some young players with all-star potential. To me, they look and sound like the Pistons of old, only more exciting, more athletic and more capable on offense.
And I have to stop here. I will not start comparing the two teams or their players in more detail. I think I was able to get across whatever it is that I'm trying to say. Maybe this is it. Maybe this a team is capable of winning it all after some tinkering with the bench and a year or two of internal growth?
Maybe not at all. Me personally, I need more time. I need this kind of play to continue until the February deadline to convince me that this team is for real. Then I need the success to continue still... to convince me that re-signing Lowry is the right thing to do. I hope Masai will be more decisive either way. It's tough though.
But right now, I just love these apples and I hope the crop is going to be good this year come April and that we'll be spared of bad crop due to bad weather over years to come.
What do you think? Can we successfully follow the Pistons model? Is it worth it? Re-sign Lowry? Only minor changes to the bench? Discuss.