Paul Pierce: I don’t see the Raptors really being a contender

Donnovan Bennett looks at the year that was for Toronto, with CFL and MLS championships reigniting the spark of hope in a city that has seen its share of title droughts.

It sounds like Paul Pierce still doesn’t think the Toronto Raptors have “It.”

Despite having the fewest losses in the Eastern Conference and the NBA’s fourth-best win percentage (.742) entering Christmas Day, Pierce doesn’t believe the Raptors have what it takes to get over the hump in the playoffs.

Speaking on a recent pre-game show on ESPN, Pierce thinks Toronto remains a rung below the NBA’s elite and questioned whether the team has enough talent on the roster to truly compete for a championship.

“I’m not really sold on them yet because I’ve seen this replay from the Raptors — a great regular-season team, where they end up in the Top 4 [in the Eastern Conference], home-court advantage, just to see them get bounced again in the playoffs,” Pierce said. “I don’t know how much they did in the off-season to improve their roster in terms of getting that player that can get you over the top. They have good, young role players, [Jonas] Valanciunas is improving, but I just don’t see that other player that gets them past where they need to go.

“I look at them as a team that can make the second round, put up a good fight but their ceiling may be the Eastern Conference Finals but no further than that. They can get the best record in the East, have home-court advantage, but I just don’t see this team really being a contender amongst Cleveland, Houston, Golden State.”

These comments aren’t the first ones the now-retired Pierce has made questioning Toronto’s post-season pedigree.

While playing for the Washington Wizards in April of 2015, the future Hall of Famer ruffled feathers among the Raptors’ fanbase by admitting he didn’t fear a playoff matchup against the club despite going winless versus Toronto that season.

“We haven’t done particularly well against Toronto, but I don’t feel they have the ‘It’ that makes you worried,” Pierce told ESPN at the time.

It turns out Pierce’s confidence was justified as the Wizards swept the Raptors in the first round of the 2015 post-season.

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While Pierce is clearly still not sold on the Raptors, fellow panelist and former Memphis Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale was more complimentary, citing the change in offensive philosophy as a main reason why this season could yield more success for Canada’s lone NBA franchise.

“I think this is a different Raptors team,” Fizdale said. “I know they’ve had some great regular seasons and didn’t necessarily show up in the playoffs like people would like, but I just see a different style team, I see a team with an edge to them. They’re playing fast, they’re scoring.”

“Give coach Casey a lot of credit to be able to adapt in today’s NBA from going to a team that ran a lot of sets to a team that plays a lot more free-flowing, attacking basketball. It’s been fun to watch their evolution.”