Morning Coffee – Mon, Jan 16

Raptors are in do-or-die time; the next couple weeks will shape the franchise going forward...maybe...

WOLSTAT: Unless Raptors surprise this week, start selling | Toronto Sun

Remember when we warned not to get too carried away about Raptors wins over the worst teams in the league? While anything can happen on any given night of a long regular season, each team is on a different tier overall, and it’s easier to see a carry-over when good things happen against a good (or even mid-tier) team (like Portland, the first opponent to start the three-game win streak) than when you simply beat up on a disaster (twice) like the Charlotte Hornets. So the Atlanta Hawks (another mid-tier team) showed they are of a different class than Charlotte on Saturday night (even though the Hawks had played a night earlier and the Raptors were rested). Toronto didn’t bring the requisite effort level (other than Scottie Barnes, Precious Achiuwa and Chris Boucher, basically) and the result was a disappointing loss.

While Barnes was excellent again, a welcome development to be sure, Fred VanVleet’s struggles might have hit a new low (1-for-9 from the field, combined with 2-for-7 work from fellow starting guard Gary Trent) and he nearly didn’t even get back into the game at all thanks to his sore back (he did when Pascal Siakam fouled out in the fourth quarter).

This week should help the front office figure out what to do in terms of the trade deadline (buy, sell, stand pat). Standing still seems like a non-starter to this corner, but you never know.

I’m still in the sell off camp, depending on what you can get back, unless you can add a core long-term piece somehow for futures.

If not, move Trent before he either leaves or gets paid a lot and as much as everyone loves O.G. Anunoby, it at least makes sense to check what’s out there for him (even though every national report and podcast out there suggests the Raptors love Anunoby and won’t move him. While it’s true they’ve been sky high on him since Day 1, again, it’s worth seeing if someone is willing to get crazy with an offer that would set the franchise up long-term to surround Barnes with the pieces that can make them a contender again).

I wouldn’t move Siakam and would be hesitant to trade VanVleet, but again would see what kind of offers are out there considering he expects to get paid a ton and isn’t getting any younger or healthier.

Moving Thaddeus Young or Chris Boucher for a good second-round pick would also make some sense, given how many big men are on the roster.

This team has shown it can’t win on the road (only horrendous Houston has one fewer away), has a bunch of road games remaining and is nowhere close to the top of the conference. Nobody likes losing, but what’s the point of the play-in or getting crushed by Boston, Milwaukee, Brooklyn, Philadelphia or even Cleveland (though Toronto has had Cleveland’s number) when two franchise changers are up for grabs in what is believed to be a much stronger than usual lottery? Toronto is just 8-18 against teams with .500 records or better.

Take a step back, like the Tampa year, to give yourself a chance for multiple seasons down the line.

Raptors running out of time to prove they have what it takes | The Star

There has to be sustained, tangible success not only to climb back into Eastern Conference playoff relevance, but to show management that this group at least has the seeds that could grow into something special.

“We’ve got a long way to go with some consistency,” coach Nick Nurse said after a loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday that contained far too much lacklustre play.

“I … would have liked to have said we’re making some progress with just being ready to go energy-wise and connectivity-wise and all that stuff, and then tonight it didn’t look like we had very good energy to start the game.”

And therein lies the biggest issue with this team.

A shocking no-show to start what was an important game was telling. The Raptors have looked good for limited stretches and not good for much longer ones. Playing on the road has been particularly bad, which can’t help their mood heading into the next three weeks.

Toronto is 4-13 away from Scotiabank Arena, the third-worst road record in the entire league, and to think things will suddenly turn around calls for a level of optimism that is not realistic.

They begin the week out of even the play-in portion of the post-season and five games behind the Knicks, who hold the sixth spot in the East that represents the final guaranteed playoff slot.

More sustained losing — this week’s schedule is at New York on Monday, in Milwaukee on Tuesday and at Minnesota on Thursday — could force Ujiri and Webster to more seriously consider a roster sea change at the deadline.

Whether they can pull it off is unknown, because the pool of trading partners is much more shallow during the season than it is in the summer, but they will most certainly entertain offers. The players have to know it, the coaching staff has to know it and the pressure to play better has never been greater.

“We’ve got to find a measure of consistency with just moving, getting back, cutting more,” Nurse said. “All the things that energy provides.”

The 3-3 homestand that just finished was a perfect example of what the season has been for the Raptors. They looked good in two wins over woeful Charlotte and played hard but fell short in all of their losses, often getting too far behind to successfully complete frenzied comebacks.

They teased, as they have much of the season.

“I definitely think we got better as a team,” Raptor Chris Boucher said. “Still got some work to do, but I think coming from where we were going and the games we lost and all, I think we are starting to find a rhythm and guys are starting to find a role.

“The ball is moving a lot better. I think we’ve just got to get a little better on defence and the rest of it should take care of itself. We are shooting the ball a lot better than before, and that is something we needed to get better at.”

The clock is ticking, though. The gap in the East is widening, and the coming dozen games really are the make-or-break portion of the season.

Some good play isn’t going to be enough. There has to be lots of it over a sustained period. The Raptors really haven’t done it yet, and there are legitimate questions whether they suddenly can.

“We always fight our way back; we try to carve our way back into the game,” Raptor Scottie Barnes said. “We had a good three games where we played really solid.”

Three out of six isn’t good enough. The same ratio in the next dozen won’t be, either.

It’s not effort, but now a lack of energy that’s behind Raptors’ struggles | Toronto Sun

Rather than effort — and maybe this was always the case — but Nurse’s focus now seems to be on energy and pace, neither of which were in abundance in Saturday’s loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

Asked about the biggest breakdowns on Saturday during a game in which the offence stumbled badly to start and then never really recovered, Nurse pointed the finger squarely at that end of the floor.

“Our offence was really bad,” Nurse said. “We didn’t run our offence with enough energy and pace. That translated directly to our defence energy and movements.”

Nurse has consistently pointed at the poor offence as the reason for the struggles on defence. He feels the lack of success on the offensive end saps the drive and ‘want-to’ at the defensive end, resulting in a game in which the Raptors are constantly trying to overcome deficits.

As anyone who has checked the NBA standings in the past month knows, that is not a winning formula.

Nurse was initially asked about why there was such an inconsistency of effort within his roster and actually praised the question, though he didn’t have a real answer.

“I don’t know,” Nurse said. “That’s a good question. I don’t really have an answer for you.”

When he was asked how he evaluated effort, Nurse responded by talking about energy.

“We’ve got a bunch of accountability factors that we look at and we take into consideration,” he said. “Even those, you can score very high on and not have the greatest energy in the world. I think the energy vibe is certainly off, no doubt about it.”

He did see some of that energy come back in recent wins over Charlotte but admits any consistent source of it has been fleeting.

“I think it feels like it’s coming back a lot of times,” Nurse said. “I know you guys ask me every day: What’s that guy been like? And what’s he been like? (They’re) still very hard- working and professional and focussed and all of that stuff. Now do they need some extra prodding? Heck, yes, they do. That’s what happens when you’re in a long season. They still get here and work very hard, individually and as a team, all that kind of stuff. There’ve just been a few too many nights where there doesn’t seem to be a collective energy when we hit the floor.”

Nurse has been very consistent over the course of the season that the margin for error with his club is small. They can’t make a bunch of mistakes and just overcome them with talent.

He has said from training camp that his team needs to be locked in nightly.

That just hasn’t been the case on too many nights this year.

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