What a difference a couple of weeks makes… If I had been asked to grade the Raptors on December 17th – the day after the Orlando Magic had stomped Toronto for the third time in the then young season – there would have been very few positives to discuss or pleasantries to dole out. Instead, as it turns out, the Raptors "Grading the First 30" report was due on January 7th – one day after Toronto held on to beat the Magic in Orlando. The win was not only a much-needed victory over Orlando, it was the Raps seventh win in their last eight contests, and pulled the team back up to the .500 mark. It was an undeniably important game; the question is whether Toronto will be able to maintain this momentum and continue their push towards respectability in the Eastern Conference.
Areas to Address before the Deadline:
Bryan Colangelo and the Raptors front office have been dealing with the same underlying issue for a few years now – will they be able to keep Chris Bosh in Toronto during the entirety of his prime? Bosh has maintained publicly that his is happy with the direction of the franchise and enjoys playing for the Raptors. And now with the Raptors playing their best ball of the season, things look sunnier in Toronto. Still, losing Bosh via free-agency and getting nothing in return would be a devastating loss for the franchise; setting them back years. Thus, there has been talk that Colangelo may hedge his bets and possibly look to trade Bosh by February's trade deadline. The rational here would be assuring the franchise won't be left empty-handed if Bosh decides to bolt. If Colangelo were to put CB4 on the block, he'd certainly be inundated with offers. The problem is that you rarely get equal value when you trade superstars in the NBA.
And with Raptors making their push, the probability of Toronto keeping Bosh past February is increasing by the day. If they do decide to keep the core intact and bring in reinforcements, the goal has to be to improve the porous defense, especially if they want to make noise in the postseason. For instance, even in their victory last night in Orlando, they nearly blew an 18-point fourth quarter lead because they could not get stops. The defense has to addressed, and fortified.
As intimated in this column's initial paragraph, if I had assigned the Raptors a grade in mid-December, it would have likely been in the "D" range. But Toronto deserves plenty of credit for turning around their season over the last few weeks. Let's take a big picture look: The Raptors are 18-18 on the season; they are in second place in the Atlantic Division; and they are currently sixth in the conference – just a half game behind the Miami HEAT for the 5th seed. Considering how poorly they played to start the year, that is certainly respectable. Now they need to make this current win streak stick, by backing it with consistent effort and sustained success.