- The Raptors have three wins in their first 11 games
- Masai Ujiri faces a big decision with Lowry
- How do they save their season?
It’s a fall from grace the North never saw coming.
The Toronto Raptors, an NBA championship-winning team just two years ago and one of the league’s top teams the year before, now hold the 14th seed in the Eastern Conference and a 3-8 win-loss record.
For all their consistent success in the past, it’s not easy to be optimistic about their start right now. They’re 17th in the league in offensive rating, 19th in net rating (-1.4), and 21st in defensive rating (110.8) through their first ten games. In that span, their lone wins have come against the New York Knicks and the Sacramento Kings, and they join the Detroit Pistons as the two worst teams in the association.
As it stands, they certainly have assets of their own to make a move. Outside of this, though, they have no incoming picks from trades. Their war chest right now consists of their first-round picks through 2027, with second-round picks in 2023 and 2025-27.
Move on from Lowry
It’s tough to imagine the Toronto Raptors without Kyle Lowry. Both names have practically grown synonymous with each other, with a history that finally includes an NBA championship. But if they want a shot at another one, moving on from the team’s soul and engine for the past few years should not be off the table. Fred VanVleet is more than ready to take the reins as their point guard of the future.
The fact of the matter is that Lowry is not getting any younger, and at 34, he would be perfectly justified in chasing rings to cap off his celebrated career if he so decides. The veteran guard from Villanova has not wavered much by way of production, with averages of 18.7 points, 7.2 assists, and 6.0 rebounds through 11 games this season.
His contract situation gives them the flexibility to make any move surrounding him. Lowry’s one-year, $31 million extension with the team means he’ll be entering free agency at the end of this season, which allows him to go wherever he wants once more if a move doesn’t work out.
With James Harden now locked up, Toronto could shift their focus towards a transaction with the Los Angeles Clippers. Though not compensating any of the star power that Lowry provides, throwing any iteration of Marcus Morris, Patrick Beverley, or Luke Kennard into a mix that already includes an MVP-calibre season so far by Fred VanVleet might prove to be the spark plug needed to breathe some life into this hapless Raptors campaign.
Acquiring Marvin Bagley III could also help shore up a frontcourt that relies largely on the emerging rim defender talent of Chris Boucher. Trading for Eric Bledsoe and JJ Redick gives them a proven slasher and premiere sharpshooter and puts Lowry next to Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson.
They could also send him to the win-now Denver Nuggets, who have been “one piece away” from winning it all for years now. Putting Lowry’s wealth of experience next to Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic would be massive. Michael Porter Jr. and Gary Harris would provide some much-needed scoring punch to a team relying on Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby to get buckets.
There will be no shortage of teams that would benefit from having Lowry leading its offense, and Lowry will instantly add another big name talent to any team contending for a title and will have no problem putting up winning numbers as his extensive history with the Raptors has shown.
Toronto has already shown in the past that it is capable of making big moves in big moments if the offer is right. Pulling the trigger on a Lowry trade would not be a wrong move if it revitalizes their championship hopes anew.
Could it be time to rebuild?
If it looks like there’s nothing the Raptors can do to save its season, that’s because there really isn’t much. And when the situation is this dire, a certain team in the East has shown us that trusting the process for a brief moment can yield great results moving forward.
It might be strange for a team that won it all just two years ago to tank, but if they really want to make the best of an already bad situation, the option should still be on the table. The upcoming 2022 draft is loaded with talent, after all, and locking down assets to build for the future might be the most logical choice.
Even then, there’s no shame in that if the other option is a mid-tier playoff spot guaranteeing they face the Brooklyn Nets or Milwaukee Bucks. The Raptors already have their championship, and demonstrated last year with their brand of team basketball that they’re a perennial contender to be taken seriously from here on out.
They have nothing left to prove, and building for the future is more logical than it sounds.
Stay the course
Most armchair pundits wrote the team off a year ago with the departure of Kawhi Leonard. After absorbing yet another loss to the San Antonio Spurs in January, things weren’t looking up.
Then the team went on a 15-game win streak. Who’s to say that can’t happen again?
Of course, changing nothing is not necessarily a change in itself. But a bad start is just that, after all: a start. It wasn’t unexpected for a team that tried to slot in Alex Len and Aron Baynes in Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol-shaped holes to struggle on both ends of the floor. But Nick Nurse is absolutely capable of retooling and recalibrating a Raptors defense that allows 46% field goal shooting from its opponents—a far cry from its 42% opponent FG% from just a season ago.
Sure, the season has not panned out quite the way they want. But with the lineup changes they’ve had, there will be growing pains, especially considering they’ve had to play in Tampa, thousands of miles away from the Toronto faithful. It’s also worth noting that two of their losses were close ones where they missed potential game-winning shots at the rim.
Though a frankly terrible start to the season, it’s also still early enough in the year for them to still rebound from it. A lot can happen in the more than 60 games remaining on the schedule, and this writer has learned never to bet against teams led by Nick Nurse and Masai Ujiri. It’s a tall order for any NBA personnel to turn this around, but if anyone can do it, they’re among the easiest choices.
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