Welcome to “Pretty Much Screwed,” our definitive guide to the upcoming NBA season. This team-by-team preview details why it’s probably not your favorite team’s year. Here, we’ll explain why the Toronto Raptors will continue to be screwed.
Here’s what you need to know about the Toronto Raptors: their biggest stories so far this offseason included trading away a former number one overall draft pick, hiring rapper Drake to be their hype man and the Raptor mascot tearing his ACL.
In fact, check that: The Raptor’s injury seems to be, far and away, the biggest loss for the team this season. Take a look at this excerpt from an entire column that Zach Lowe of Grantland penned regarding the reddish dinosaur:
My in-laws live in Toronto, and my sister-in-law is a season-ticket holder, so I’ve seen the Raptor perform for years and years, dating back to long before I covered the NBA as a profession. He is easily one of my five favorite mascots in the league, and it’s not a stretch to say that over the last half-decade or so of lethargic Raptors basketball, the Raptor was the very best thing going on during game days at Air Canada Centre.
No disrespect to the man behind the costume, but if a cartoon dinosaur that rollerblades down the arena steps is the best part about attending an NBA game, you have a problem.
The truth is, it’s a tough time to play in the Eastern Conference. There are multiple powerhouse teams — two of which reside in the Raptors own division — and the second tier has been much improved. There will be a legitimate dogfight for the last three playoff spots, and while the Wizards, Cavaliers, Pistons, Hawks and Bucks are all in talks to be in that race, the Raptors are decidedly not.
Why is that? The team isn’t low on talent. They have a bunch of players who have the word “potential” written all over them. Rudy Gay could be a top 15 player. Demar DeRozen could be a top 10 shooting guard. Kyle Lowry could be a top 10 point guard. Jonas Valanciunas could be a top 10 big man. And so on.
Here’s the thing:
They don’t calculate records based on the “could be” factor. They only count actual wins and losses.
I’m not completely writing off the Raptors. They could be — there’s that phrase again — pretty good. But “pretty good” in the Eastern Conference means a first round exit, best case scenario. Worst case scenario, it means grabbing the 10th spot (which, surprise, is where they landed last year) and not being bad enough to draft another top prospect.
The Raptors are getting closer. They dumped their useless big man once and for all and are committing to the rebuilding process. Give this team a year to mature and play up to their potential, and you might have a quality squad on your hands. Until then, be content with your occasional Lob City-esque antics via Gay and Terrence Ross. Get comfortable. Find a spot in the middle distance to stare blankly at and wait for summer.
Three things to watch for this year, Raptors fans:
1) Your new global ambassador is Drake. I don’t know what a global ambassador is. I assume that means he’ll randomly bring up the team during conversations with people from other cities. “Hey, you guys, the Raptors still exist! I like my drink with a lemon twist!” Rappers like to rhyme.
2) I actually really like your front court: You’ve got Valanciunas and Amir Johnson (who set career highs in points, boards and blocks last year) starting, and young, bruising types off the bench in Quincy Acy and Tyler “Do We Still Call Him Psycho?” Hansbrough. These are all young guys with something to prove. They might not be as talented as the back court, but they could be the difference this year.
3) Will Rudy Gay make the leap?: You better hope so. This whole rebuilding process is centered around Gay, who has the body and skills to be an elite player. But where is his mind?
Actual season prediction: 37-45, 10th in the East. Womp womp.
Photo via Getty