One — Empty: There are only two outcomes when you tune into a Raptors game. They either battle hard but come up short in some new and bitter way, or they are just completely gassed and get blown out in shameless fashion. Toronto’s three losses to the Pistons over the last month covers the entire spectrum from depressing to despondent. This entire season is lost, and the players know it. Having received no help whatsoever from the front office in the offseason and again at the trade deadline, the message was to roll over and tank, and you’re witnessing what that looks like.
Multiple reports around the deadline indicated that deals with the Heat and Sixers were on the brink of happening before they ultimately failed to come to fruition. One front-office source said they thought Toronto should have taken a deal from Miami if it included Duncan Robinson, which was widely reported. But at least one report indicated that Toronto wanted Tyler Herro. Ujiri reiterated Thursday that the Raptors’ valuation of Lowry was higher than anybody else’s, and said he believes Lowry can be the piece that pushes a team from a contender to a title winner—after all, Lowry did that exact thing for Toronto in the 2018-19 season. So the president admitted he was surprised that no team was willing to come up to the Raptors’ price.
For the past couple of years, Lowry has been the captain of a ship that hasn’t always sailed smoothly. He’s been Toronto’s anchor during seasons when playoff disappointment felt almost guaranteed, and their motor when he wasn’t the team’s best player but arguably its most important.
This year, Lowry’s role has continued to evolve based on what the Raptors have needed. In a season when the team has been displaced to Tampa due to Canada’s coronavirus travel restrictions and impacted by the virus as well as other injuries, Lowry has been its emotional cornerstone. “He’s always the one that shepherds us through these moments,” Ujiri said. “To be honest, he’s just been a strength and a backbone for this team.”
Ujiri repeatedly acknowledged that this season has been challenging on various levels for the Raptors. They haven’t lost their identity, but the circumstances surrounding the team have had a muting effect. Ujiri said the group’s ability to persevere despite their surroundings factored into his decision-making at the deadline, because it’s been hard to assess what type of team they really are given all the changes and hardships they’ve been through. He felt they deserved a chance to fight for something this season, and if there was not a deal they liked, why not fight with their leader on their side?
“If we were going to do something, we were honestly going to do something right by Kyle,” Ujiri said. “That’s the respect we have for him, and we have to. We’ve come a long way, we owe him that respect as a player, as a person.”
And so Ujiri and Lowry are left with the status quo. This creates a kind of team-building limbo for Toronto, but that may not be a bad thing—at least in the short term. Toronto is two games behind a slot in the play-in game and only four games behind the 8-seed. Trading Lowry could have meant a descent in the East standings; keeping him makes the Raptors a continued threat and an unappealing first-round opponent.
Things get more complicated in the long term. Ujiri touted the organization’s belief in its young core of Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, and OG Anunoby, but the team is still at a crossroads. Lowry will be an unrestricted free agent this summer and reportedly will be looking for at least a two-year, $50 million deal. If he wants, he can simply sign with whoever offers him that, or Toronto could try to orchestrate a sign-and-trade that nets it at least some of the assets a deadline move would have.
For all the good vibes surrounding the relationship between Lowry and Toronto, one would think that that’s a conclusion the two parties may come to. And maybe that’s the best the Raptors can hope for at this point. That by valuing Lowry highly, and keeping the bar for a deal high, they can garner the good will to still get something for him when he departs in the summer.
Then there’s the option that would surprise people even more than Thursday’s no-trade did. What if Lowry and the Raptors find a way to stay together even after this summer? Lowry’s reported demands are high, but could a gaudy one-year deal allow both parties to extend their time together while giving Toronto another chance to trade Lowry for a worthy return next season?
This has become bleak.
“It’s an experience they’ve got to grow through and continue to battle and get better,” Nurse said. “It’s really hard right now to, like, sit here and be upset. I think the guys are … attentive and they’re trying, and they just can’t quite move like they’d like to right now, and I can’t put my finger on it other than it’s a little harder to come back from all this stuff than we’re realizing. We’re just in the middle of it.”
For now, it is not worth spending too much time on that particular decision with VanVleet. Nurse does have a tendency to chase wins until the result is assured, but the Raptors have won a ton under him. Perhaps that will change in the last six or so weeks of the season. Things have to become focused on something beyond the here and now.
That does not mean sitting down your core players such as VanVleet, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby — at least not yet. However the rest of this season plays out, you want them heading into an actual offseason feeling decent about themselves. However, it does mean lightening the minutes load a little bit, and it should certainly mean opting for the future instead of the present on the periphery.
That happened a bit Monday, as Malachi Flynn played 18 minutes compared to Kyle Lowry’s 24, as the Raptors are monitoring Lowry’s foot injury that kept him out of Sunday’s game. We were already starting to see some of that with Paul Watson before he had to step out of the lineup last week because of health and safety protocols. Going into next season, the Raptors will also have to make decisions on current two-way players Yuta Watanabe, who played 10 energetic minutes of garbage time, and second-round pick Jalen Harris. With apologies to players like Stanley Johnson, Rodney Hood and the currently injured Patrick McCaw, this season has to become as much about learning as it is about winning.
There still has to be accountability. With the way things are going, though, if any run at a playoff spot develops, it should be potential long-term pieces who are helping it along.
“As you know, we dressed 10 guys (Sunday) night. Probably in that same scenario again tonight,” Nurse said before the game when asked about a previously mentioned desire to give his main players some rest. “Just gotta figure it out and try to manage best we can here in the short term. We don’t really have anything to wait for now. We gotta start making some ground now if we’re gonna make any. It’s not like we need to plan for the future. The future is now.”
Counterpoint: Maybe it’s not.
Did the Raptors miss an opportunity to get a return for Kyle Lowry?
The Toronto Raptors made the interesting call to keep Kyle Lowry on the roster despite a few teams reaching out with deals. The Group Chat discusses whether or not it was the right move.
Two schools of thought have emerged from Toronto’s refusal to simply take the best offer on the table at the trade deadline for their franchise cornerstone. On the one hand, teams are bewildered at the Raptors’ asking price for a 35-year-old point guard who would either be a short-term rental or an aging player commanding a salary in the range of $25 million annually this summer. On the flip side, plenty of Raptors fans believe there was no offer appealing enough for Lowry, who would have raised the ceiling for any team he joined.
Another team with a different relationship with their point guard would have simply taken the best offer at 3 p.m. on Thursday. Still, the Raptors weren’t enamored with Philadelphia’s refusal to include the draft compensation and young talent they were looking for, or the Heat’s package without Tyler Herro and the Lakers’ last-ditch attempt at trading for Lowry while holding on to Talen-Horton Tucker. The Raptors have a close working relationship with Lowry, and the two sides can likely come together on a sign-and-trade if he wants to land somewhere else this summer. If that’s the case, Toronto could get a similar package to what they were offered at the deadline.
The disastrous scenario would be watching Lowry leave this summer and sign with another team without getting anything in return. The team would have watched Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Serge Ibaka, Marc Gasol and Lowry leave over the course of three summers without replenishing their roster with assets in return.
Of course, there’s also a third scenario. Lowry surveys the offseason landscape, and no team can provide both the winning environment and annual salary he’s looking for, and he agrees to return to the Raptors once more. We’ll find out this offseason whether the Raptors made a mistake at the trade deadline.
There are too many games in too few days, too many missed chances for one of the things the organization prides itself on more than anything: the chance to develop talent through hours of work, teaching and hugely important workout time.
They are not alone, of course; all NBA teams are fighting the same issues given the pandemic-altered existence this season. But it hurts Toronto an awful lot and will be part of the narrative of this most disjointed and disappointing of seasons.
“What’s that do? It keeps you off the floor some because you’re getting ready for the next (game),” coach Nick Nurse said. “It probably cuts into your film evaluation time a little bit because (you don’t have) a couple days between where you can really dig in and watch and rewind.”
There is precious little time to take the lessons to the practice court, and then try to get that to the next game.
“There’s probably a little less of that going on as well,” Nurse said.
The obvious drag is on rookies such as Malachi Flynn and Jalen Harris. They have not had the benefit of a full G League season, they have had to spend too much time watching NBA games instead of playing, and it has stunted their development at least a little bit.
The Raptors — and basically every NBA team — have scant time for practice and with the jammed schedule — at least four games a week — even time to get in the video room and do extended work is limited.
Flynn, for instance, only got to play in six games with the G League Raptors 905 when he could have used six times that many. It was in part because he was needed to fill out the Raptors roster at times, and because the G League season was only 15 games long. It added up to missed vital playing opportunities.
“He probably would have played about 40 games in the (G League),” Nurse said of Flynn. “I think that was good for him down there.”
Even 10th place, the last point of entry for the play-in tournament, is far from a sure thing. Toronto trailed Chicago by two-and-a-half games before the Bulls tipped off against Golden State Monday night.
The Raptors will likely need to go 14-11 from here to think about catching the Bulls, who added all-star Nikola Vucevic at the trade deadline to bolster their playoff push.
Think they can do it? Should they? Do they believe the can?
For all the apparent urgency of the situation, the Raptors didn’t come out of the gate Monday playing with much. It wasn’t all that surprising, given they were playing on the second night of a back-to-back and had to fly north from Tampa to play the Pistons, who were off on Sunday and at home waiting. The Raptors had only won once on the second night of a back-to-back coming into the game and are now 1-9 in those situations, a reflection of the compressed nature of the schedule, the Raptors’ injury woes and mostly their overall lack of quality depth.
Their start against the Pistons was all of that.
The Raptors trailed 35-27 and were down 21 with 4:11 to go in the half and there was no corner of the game the Pistons weren’t dominating. They looked young, fresh and were playing for each other, the ball popping and baskets dropping. If it looks familiar it should: it’s the way the Raptors play at their best, but just not very often this season and even less lately.
Toronto went into the half in a 66-50 hole, and given the overall circumstances, it felt like double that. The Raptors never got the Pistons’ lead under 13 and trailed by as many as 23 early in the fourth quarter.
There are 25 games left in what is giving every indication of being a lost season.
The odds of the Raptors finding something redemptive in it – other than a lottery pick – are getting longer by the day.
I gotta say, these Raptors are talented — Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam are still real good — but this team, man, it’s bad. They’re in a tough spot not being able to play in Toronto at all this year, but they just looks like a team going nowhere.
The Detroit Pistons’ rookies are making Troy Weaver look like a genius, as they just keep playing well and improving nearly every game.
Saddiq Bey had 19 points, four assists and three rebounds and continued his hot shooting, hitting 5-of-7 from long range.
Isaiah Stewart has been rolling lately and added another 14 points off the bench. He is leading all rookies in rebounds and blocks and has now hit 8-of-18 from 3-point range for the season, which is a skill no one predicted he’d have this early in his career.
Saben Lee once again played well in the starting role, scoring 19 points and adding five assists and three rebounds while controlling the offense like a seasoned veteran.
None of these rookies are playing like rookies anymore and it appears the Pistons have two possible stars and a solid rotation player from last year’s draft, which isn’t bad considering all of them were picked outside of the lottery.
With the return of Killian Hayes coming soon, it’s not too early to say that this is one of the best Pistons’ draft classes of the modern era.
Troy Weaver has this rebuild ahead of schedule, mostly because he nailed every pick in the draft.
The second half started the same way for the Raptors — a Trent three-pointer off a set play, a Siakam turnover, and a Pistons three-pointer. It’s easy to say this in retrospect, but nothing seemed to be going the Raptors’ way. After Siakam’s turnover, there was Saddiq Bey with a long heave as the shot clock expired, followed by Pascal picking up his fourth foul. Somehow the Raptors were still numerically in the game, but it didn’t necessarily feel like that. Even after OG Anunoby hit back-to-back perimeter shots to cut the lead to 13.
The Piston’s size on the boards continued to be a problem — which led directly to Siakam picked up his fifth foul with eight minutes to go in the quarter while battling for a rebound. The Raptors’ putrid defense got worse in the third, as they continued to cough up offensive rebounds and wide-open perimeter shots while doing nothing on offense either. A Cory Joseph three-pointer pushed Detroit’s lead to 87-65, forcing coach Nick Nurse to call a timeout and consider his life choices.
Perhaps to avoid another confrontation, Nurse elected to put Siakam and Anunoby back in to start the fourth. But that didn’t end up mattering since the Pistons would go on a 10-4 run to get their biggest lead of the night at 23 points. At that point, you’d think the Raptors would pack it in for the night. Instead, with Siakam and Anunoby still on the floor, coach Nurse subbed VanVleet back in too — with six minutes to go — to make another go of it. Toronto didn’t get the lead down to less than 14 the rest of the way.
It felt as if once Siakam got his respectable looking stat line, he promptly collected his sixth foul to call it a night with under four minutes to go. It took another couple of minutes before Nurse finally raised the white flag and admitted to himself that it was indeed garbage time. Setting aside all of the larger issues around the team (which are hard to set aside), this is about as neat an on-court summary as you’re going to see of the Raptors season.
When it comes time to write the obituary on the 2020-21 Raptors season, nights like Monday will be front and centre in the story.
It’s not as if the Raptors “should” win any game they play, but their inability to beat teams below them in the standings may ultimately be the death knell to a string of seven straight playoff appearances.
With another effort that was listless for far too long, the Raptors dropped a 118-104 decision to the Detroit Pistons, their 14th loss in 16 games.
It’s the third time this season that the Pistons, who began the night with the second-worst record in the NBA, have beaten the Raptors.
Toronto has also lost to Minnesota (dead last in the league right now), was beaten by Houston after the Rockets had dropped 20 in a row, and also lost to Sacramento and Cleveland, hardly powers in the league.
They had a no-show game in Atlanta, blew a 15-point lead with five minutes left in another against the Hawks, and their failure to take advantage of soft portions of the schedule will likely be their ultimate undoing.
And that’s not even pointing out they are now a dismal 1-9 in the second game of a back-to-back.
“We’ve gotten hammered pretty good on some of them, and it’s becoming a little bit of a trend that we don’t like,” coach Nick Nurse said of the back-to-back failings. “It’s funny because we’ve really been really good on them historically. I don’t have the numbers … but I know we’ve won a bunch of back-to-backs and won the back end of a bunch. But lately, especially, it’s been really tough, right?”
Monday, their undoing was the simple fact that the Pistons played harder than they did. Detroit was quicker, attacked the basket easily by beating Raptors perimeter defenders and led almost wire-to-wire.
“I know it doesn’t look like it maybe, but those guys were trying to get moving. They just couldn’t quite keep caught up with them and get out to shooters enough and things like that, and then it just kind of piles up on you,” Nurse said.
Even the rookies gave the Raptors the little brother treatment going at them with both speed and physicality and more often than not getting the results they wanted.
The Pistons two leading scorers on the night were both rookies – Saddiq Bey and Saben Lee with 19 points each. Second-year guard Hamidou Diallo also had 19 coming off the Pistons bench along with a game-high 10 rebounds.
Then there was former Raptor Cory Joseph, a rare veteran on Dwane Casey’s roster, who only just arrived in Detroit from Sacramento in a trade deadline deal that sent another Raptor Delon Wright west.
Joseph, still finding his way in Detroit, looked in this game like he had been there his whole career coming off the bench and providing 15 points to ensure any comeback the Raptors might have considered wasn’t an option any longer.
Head coach Nick Nurse called this latest loss on the back end of a back-to-back a worrisome trend.
“It’s been difficult on these back to backs,” Nurse began. “We’ve gotten hammered pretty good on some of them and it’s becoming a little bit of a trend that we don’t like. It’s funny because we’ve really been really good on them historically, I don’t have the numbers or anything like that at all. I don’t keep track of that stuff, but I know we’ve won a bunch of back to backs and won the back end of the bunch, but lately, especially, it’s been really tough, right?”
Nurse though was not questioning his players’ effort.
“ I don’t know, you just can see a half step slow on everything we’re doing, not quite enough lift on the finishes, not quite enough lift on the jump shots, etc,” he said. “And it’s hard if we’re not playing with energy, it’s going to be difficult, and we were trying. I know it doesn’t look like it maybe, but those guys were trying to get moving, they just couldn’t quite keep up with them and get out to shooters enough and things like that and then it just kind of piles up on you.”
Fred VanVleet tried to keep the Raptors within comeback distance with his three-point game interspersed with attacks on the Pistons paint, but his 22 for the game merely kept this one from blowout status.
Pascal Siakam, who spent the same three weeks in the league’s health and safety protocols as VanVleet, had his first subpar game in the last five as early foul trouble and a lack of finish limited him to just 14 points on the night before eventually fouling out of the game.
This Week: 24
Last Week: 22
Toronto promptly dropped two games in a row after breaking a nine-game losing streak, leaving the Raptors closer to 13th than 10th in the standings at a rather late stage of the season. There’s still time for Toronto to right itself, and keeping Kyle Lowry will help — assuming the right foot soreness that held him out of Sunday’s loss to Portland doesn’t linger. But the idea this team can be a problem for an opponent in the first round is looking more and more remote by the day. As a result, whether it can leap up in a loaded lottery is looking like the much more relevant question. — Bontemps
Key additions: Rodney Hood, Gary Trent Jr.
Key departures: Norman Powell
This Week: 23
Last Week: 22
18-28, -0.1 net rating
Weekly slate: Loss at Rockets, Win over Nuggets, Loss to Suns, Loss to Blazers
One sentence to sum up the trade deadline for this team: I love the fact that Masai Ujiri held firm in not trading Kyle Lowry away from the Toronto Raptors because it was a power move for the future in showing teams that if you don’t come correct with a trade offer, you’re not going to get him to break his stance.
Why are they ranked here? I was hopeful that the Raptors beating Denver this week and then not trading Lowry was going to catapult them into the win column some more. But they lost their last two games of the week, pushing this latest stretch to losing 11 of their last 12 games. The Raptors still are well within reach of the play-in tournament, but maybe getting a high draft pick and drafting someone for the future is the better play.
This Week: 26
Last Week: 27
Pace: 99.9 (14) OffRtg: 112.4 (13) DefRtg: 112.5 (23) NetRtg: -0.1 (16)
Other teams made bigger trades, but the Raptors led the league in deadline-week drama. Their eight-game losing streak went head-to-head with the Rockets’ 20-game losing streak and theirs was the streak that survived. Wednesday was Kyle Lowry’s last game as a Raptor, except that it wasn’t, and the streak came to an end with a blowout win against one of the best teams in the league. Lowry wasn’t traded, but Norman Powell was, and he got to play his old team three days later.
With the Raptors playing small, OG Anunoby spent most of Wednesday and Friday guarding Nikola Jokic and Deandre Ayton. He did an admirable job, and the Raptors continue to have much better numbers with Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Anunoby and Pascal Siakam playing alongside another guard or wing (+11.8 points per 100 possessions in 146 total minutes) than with a center (+0.9 per 100 in 206 minutes).
Alas, continued late-game misfortune has the Raptors at 18-28 and three games in the loss column out of 10th place, having been outscored by four total points over their 46 games. After that easy win over the Nuggets, the Raps lost by nine total points to the Suns and Blazers. They’re now a painful 7-19 (with nine straight losses) in games that were within five points in the last five minutes, having seen, by far, the biggest drop in clutch winning percentage from last season, when they were 25-12 (third best).
They’re seemingly primed for a surge, and the schedule offers an opportunity to put some wins together over the next couple of weeks. Six of their next seven games are against teams with losing records and the only exception is a visit from the shorthanded Lakers.
This Week: 24
Last Week: 27
The Raptors flipped the script on the trade deadline, hanging onto Kyle Lowry and making a Norman Powell-for-Gary Trent Jr. swap that might eventually end up as a net positive. They did not flip the script on the court, however, as Toronto lost three of its four games, including one to the Rockets, who had lost 20 straight. The Raptors played brilliantly in their win over the Nuggets, which everyone thought was Lowry’s last game as a Raptor (maybe even Lowry himself), but overall they’ve dropped 13 of 15 games. That being said, they’re still within striking distance of a play-in spot, and could make for a difficult matchup if everyone’s healthy and clicking by then.
The Toronto Raptors dominated the conversation at the trade deadline as the team made three deals, highlighted by the Powell trade with Portland that saw them acquire Gary Trent Jr. and Rodney Hood.
But it was the move they didn’t make that grabbed the most headlines as Masai Ujiri and the Raptors elected to keep Kyle Lowry at the deadline, despite reports of multiple teams sending offers for the star point guard.
The offers the Raptors were seeing just weren’t good enough it would seem, and now the Raptors will look to make the play-in tournament at the very least.
In order to do so, however, the team may need this nightmare month of March to end as the club’s won just once all month long.
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