By Rob Ficiur
Great news Toronto Raptors fans! The Toronto Raptors have gone ten days in a row without a loss after making the big trade! This is absolute, total, undeniable positive proof that center Serge Ibaka is the answer to all the problems that were plaguing the Raptors. Why didn’t they make the trade before they fell from second to fourth in the Eastern Conference standings?
Caution: Before fans get too excited about the magic of the big trade, this Fake News should be reported for what it is. It is true that the Raptors have not lost since the trade; but in these last ten days the Raptors have only played twice; and Ibaka was only in one of those games. This fake news headline is like the Toronto Raptors season; it is hard to know what is real. Even more unclear which Raptors team will show up when the playoffs start.
Positive – The Toronto Raptors appear to be on the track for making the playoffs for a franchise record fourth year in a row. From 2000-2002 the Vince Carter lead Raptors made the playoffs three years in a row. The Kyle Lowry / Demar De Rosan led Raptors have already set new franchise records by going to the final four last year. Raptors fans are enjoying the winningest era in the team’s history.
Concern – Is the winning window going to close after this season (and before the Raptors make it to the finals or win a championship)? Three years ago making the playoffs made it a good season; now fans won’t be satisfied with the same as what they had before. For fans anything less than a finals appearance is a backwards step for the team.
Concern – The Raptors’ Vince Carter era ended when the team traded their first superstar. This summer Kyle Lowry will be a free agent. At age 31 this will be Kyle Lowry’s last big contract. Experience tells us that the free in Free Agency means that the player could easily be on another team next year. The threat of free agency makes winning now even more important this year. Patrick Patterson is also a free agent after this season. Is it a coincidence that the Raptors winning era began precisely when they acquired Patterson in December 2013? Newly acquired Center Serge Ibaka will also be a free agent. Winning now is critical because we don’t know what the team will look like next fall.
Positive – the Raptors are solidly in a playoff spot. Every team goes through winning streaks and losing streaks through an 82 game schedule. Despite the recent slump it is hard to imagine the team could fall so out of a playoff spot. They are currently eight games ahead of the ninth place.
Concern – Not all playoff spots are meant to be equal. For most of the season, the Raptors were a solid second place in the Eastern conference. Their goal in those early months was to somehow catch the champion Cleveland Cavaliers. With the current losing streak, catching Cleveland is all but impossible. Now climbing back to 2nd place should be their priority. If the playoffs started today the second seeded team would play the 29-29 Chicago Bulls in the playoffs. The fourth seeded Raptors (34-24) would face a solid Atlanta Hawks (32-25). There are no easy playoff rounds; but it doesn’t take a math wizard to figure out it is easier to beat a weaker team.
Concern – The Toronto Raptors were 4-11 in the games leading up to the big trade. Yes, all teams go on losing streaks; but during this streak some bad habits emerged. The best (worst) example of this is the team’s 102-101 loss to the Detroit Pistons. Going into the fourth quarter the Raptors were leading the less than .500 Pistons by 16 points. Playing at home this game was all but won…right? The Pistons stormed back to win the game by one point. Blowing leads to weak teams shows that something is wrong with the team’s mental game. Sloppy habits are hard to overcome.
Positive – The Toronto Raptors have acquired the starting center they have been looking for all season long. Ibaka has averaged 13 – 15 points and seven rebounds per game in the last five years. The trade cost the team outside shooter Terrace Ross and a first round draft pick. Ross averaged 10.4 points off the bench. The team feels that they can fill his minutes. The addition of Ibaka strengthens them in the area of greatest weakness.
The last two playoff seasons the Raptors have the best of times and the worst of times. In 2015, after posting the best regular season in team history, Toronto lost four straight to Washington. A year later, they began their first round series (again) with two straight losses at home. Just as fans were about to give up, the 2016 Raptors woke up. They beat Indiana and Miami in seven game series. In the Eastern final Toronto looked overmatched against the future NBA champs in Cleveland. After being blown out the first two games, the Raptors won the next two at home. Eventually the team lost to Cleveland; but the series was closer than most Raptors fans realistically could have hoped for.
Therefore What? In this “winning era” of Toronto Raptors basketball fans have seen them go so hot they can beat an all-star team. We have seen them so cold that me and you and three other friends could beat them. Since they have been unpredictable in the past, we can expect the same in the future. (Please remember to turn on the wining magic sooner than later.)