It has been 23 days.
23 days to allow the sweep to sink in.
23 days to process the fact that the 2016-2017 season is over.
With the 109-102 loss in Game 4, the Cleveland Cavaliers finished off the sweep and eliminated the Toronto Raptors from the 2017 playoff run. In true Raptor fan fashion, the boys were sent off to the infamous “LET’S GO RAPTORS” that stopped LeBron mid-sentence last season in the Eastern Conference Finals. But something about this good-bye felt different, almost permanent. You know when you say good-bye to someone and you just have this feeling that you may not see them for a while, if ever again? That’s what it felt like.
Within just a couple of days of the game 4 defeat, President Masai Ujiri of the Toronto Raptors had his end-of-season press conference and described this team perfectly during the play-off run, "this was not the same Raptors we saw throughout the season and even in the first round". On both ends of the court, this was not the team that had 51 wins and finished third in the Eastern Conference. He, along with the rest of the Raptors organization, knew that their performance during the second round was a fail.
In episode 002 of “Pass The Rock”, we dissected all possible excuses as to why this series was such a fail. Was it the lack of time this team had together? Was it the coaching style no longer being effective in this shooter’s league? Were the players fatigued from the previous series? Or simply put, was LeBron James and the Cavs just too good? But let’s be real, it wasn’t just one reason that caused the Raptors to be swept. Looking back at the series now, and in fact the season as a whole, it’s all of those factors mentioned combined that made the Raptors ineffective in stopping the Cavs’ playoff run.
We can go through the numbers and analyze how each player performed through the regular and post season but I think we as a fan base have bigger things to worry about than to reminisce of what could have been. This off season will be a turning point for this franchise in more ways than one. Here are some things that you should consider during the next 5 months as we wait for the season opener…
Look, as much as it pains me to say it, it’s a reality that has become more realistic than fans want to believe. A week after game 4, Kyle Lowry officially opted out of his contract with the Raptors, making him an unrestricted free agent. In simple terms, Klow is single and is definitely ready to mingle. There have been reports of various teams showing interest but keep in mind they are just rumors. In an article by Bleacher Report, they listed 7 teams that could afford Kyle and level up by adding him to their roster. Teams like Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks, and San Antonio Spurs are among potential candidates for Kyle. But there is one specific team that makes the idea of losing Kyle all too real – the Philadelphia 76ers. In episode 002 of #PTR, we talked about why going to the 76ers would make sense on all levels for Kyle. For one, the story line of a Philly kid coming back home to play is very intriguing and the cap space is there for Philadelphia to give Kyle what he is asking for. Also, Kyle did mention that all he cares about is "winning a ring" and so the talent, though still very young, is there for the 76ers to be potential ring contenders. So why not, right? There is no doubt that Kyle has done wonders for the Raptors organization through his time here. During his 5 seasons with the Raptors, he averaged 18.2 points, shot 42.5% from the field, 37.6% from the three (with his best 3-point shooting season being 2016-2017 - 41.2%), 6.8 assist, 4.7 rebounds and 1.6 steals. Not only has he led this team to some of its best seasons, he has also helped harvest the culture that is the Toronto Raptors. Like Adian of #PTR said, Kyle Lowry is the combination of all of the great Raptors alumni combined. He is the heart of this team but as the post-season went on, it was getting harder to see that same fight in him. Maybe this is me protecting myself for the heartbreak that may come if he leaves, but all other moves that the Toronto Raptors make from here on depend on Kyle’s decision.
This was a phrase that was constantly used by Masai during his press conference so you know that the flaws in this team have been discussed already. For me, the culture of a team is dictated by the coach and it’s no surprise that Coach Casey built a defensive-minded culture for this team because this is what he knows best. But with the shift in how the NBA wants games to pan out, offense will need to be a bigger priority. It was confirmed by Coach Casey himself last Thursday that he is staying as the coach of the Toronto Raptors which has some fans concerned because of what we’ve seen throughout the seasons. Coach Casey has difficulties adapting and making the necessary adjustments at the right time. But Masai has made it clear to him that the Raptors organization needs to find a way to make offense a bigger priority. There have already been signs that he listened to Masai as he reassured fans that all players will be working on their offense, especially the 3-pointer. Masai has never been the type to make decisions for the “now” but rather, he is a calculated man, always thinking about the future and making the idea of Coach Casey getting fired seem like a far stretch. We will have to wait until the next season starts to see if Coach Casey can back up his words with actions…
Let’s do a full rebuild….kinda
We’ve had the same group of core players together since the “Northern Uprising” back in the 2013-2014 season and the furthest we’ve gone is the Eastern Conference Finals. So is this experiment over?
One of those core players that will be going into free-agency is a fan favourite, Patrick Patterson. Ever since his injury earlier this season, Patty has not looked the same. This is a guy that we rely on to stretch the floor and to provide defense but this past season, he has not been at his best. In fact, his post-season appearance this time was his worst performance since joining the Raptors in 2013. In 10 games, he averaged 3.4 points, shot 27.8% from the field and 30.8% from beyond the arc. In the last two games of round 2, he had 0 points with one of those games having no field goal attempts. As Jack Armstrong said during his commentary for game 4, Patrick Patterson started to play scared and he was getting rid of the ball as soon as possible. As much as I loved getting free movies out of him, I think his time with the Raptors is very limited, if not over altogether.
Jonas Valanciunas is another core player that may be moved. In a report from Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders, Serge Ibaka coming back to Toronto was “basically a done deal”. If this report comes true and he does return, it ties up the Raptors financially and also clogs up certain spots on the floor. Toronto fans are a lot of things but naïve is not one of them. We see how much Coach Casey has favoured Serge Ibaka in the 5 position since he joined the team and so it wouldn’t come as a surprise if Ibaka took over this role altogether. In addition to this, we have also seen the limited and almost confusing use of JV in late game situations. It has some fans wondering if Coach Casey even remembers JV is on the team. But the odd use of JV is not only attributed to coaching decisions. In all honestly, JV can be a streaky player and there are days where yes, he’s better off not playing because he is a liability on both ends of the court. We have seen him lead this team to victory in both regular and post season games which makes fans believe that this guy is here to stay. But we have also seen this guy get picked apart by teams exposing just how far behind JV is from the rest of the league. The Toronto Raptors is all he has ever known but has his time with the organization expired? Is he better suited playing under a different system? I guess we’ll just have to wait and find out…
Lastly, another player that may be an expiring experiment is DeMarre Carroll. Since joining the Raptors in 2015, he has averaged 9.9 points, 4.3 rebounds, shot an average of 39.5% from the field and 36.5% from the three. In the 2016-2017 post-season run, he averaged 4.2 points, 2.7 rebounds, a FG% of 40.5% and shot 31.8% from beyond the arc. This was achieved in 10 games where he was a starter for 7 of them. When discussing DeMarre Carroll on #PTR, I have made it very clear that I’m not his biggest fan but I’ll let you make your own decision. Just keep in mind that we picked him up in hopes that he can be our “3-and-D” guy but his numbers have not proven his worth. Yes, yes, I know he was plagued with injury but at some point something has got to give. We pay him $13.6 million per year and if we want to free up some cap space for guys who do contribute to this team, Masai may consider dumping this contract and working his magic once again.
In an article written by Zach Lowe, he talked about how this coming off-season will be a time where the Raptors will need to determine what direction they’re going to take this team and I couldn’t agree more. The next couple of months will be a time where a lot of important decisions will be made. There will be times of “Masai should have done this…” or “what was Masai thinking with that…” and not everyone is going to agree. However, one thing we can agree on is that we were able to witness some of the best times in Raptors history in the last 4 seasons because of him. Sure we didn’t have a VC/McGrady combo or a Stoudamire or even a CB4 but the team that he put together gave this city something to cheer for again. This squad, some may argue was assembled by chance, made the country love basketball again. The decisions that will be made from now until October may put an end to this particular era of Toronto Raptors. With that being said, use the time now to enjoy the success that this team had throughout the years because it may (or may not) be a long time before we see this kind of success again.