The following is part of Raptors Republic’s series of pieces reviewing the season for the Toronto Raptors. You can find all the pieces in the series here.
Most people don't think about air as they breathe it. You can go hours, days -- your whole life, if you care to -- without consciously taking in oxygen. Your body takes care of that all on its own. Some things are a given in this life. There used to be more, but until Nestle figures out a way to sell us our oxygen, those of us with healthy lungs and respiratory systems get that just as a perk for being born.
The NBA has its qualities that come with the price of admission, too. Structures that teams don't have to build, but simply come as a matter of course. As a result of entropy and path dependency.
That is, until the Toronto Raptors lost Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka and went haywire in philosophizing about how to construct a roster.
In 2019, the Raptors won a championship with one of the best defensive players in the league and one of the best bench players both sharing the same position. In 2020, they lost Kawhi Leonard but remained one of the best teams behind the same strengths. Then in 2021, they tried to replace Gasol and Ibaka with Aron Baynes and Alex Len. It didn't work. Khem Birch, a free-agent castaway from Orlando, held the spot admirably for a time, but injuries sapped his explosiveness. So in 2022 and most of 2023, the Raptors said fuck it and just held their breath. They started three forwards in Pascal Siakam, Scottie Barnes, and O.G. Anunoby, and they shared center duties.
All this to say: Teams in the NBA just have centers. Like breathing, they don't need to think about it -- it just happens. The Raptors went more than a full season without breathing. And when oxygen finally hit their lungs in the form of one Jakob Poeltl, the air never tasted so sweet.