The Toronto Raptors are fresh off a franchise best 11-game winning streak, sitting second overall in the Eastern Conference with one of the best defences league.
And, hey, that’s great. But let’s face it, this is the NBA, and in the NBA, Toronto’s best isn’t good enough. Especially not when they’re sizing up against the Cleveland Cavaliers, a team that’s got them by an average of nearly 10-points head-to-head this season. And certainly not when the best in the West are the otherworldly Golden State Warriors, not to mention the San Antonio Spurs.
Masai Ujiri is well aware of this.
“The storm is going to come at some point,” the Raptors GM told Sportsnet’s delightful duo of Tim and Sid this week, noting that it was difficult to enjoy the Raptors 12-2 record in January. “When it’s going well you prepare for when it’s not going to go well.”
“When the sun is out you can’t get a little Mai Tai and have a drink?” asked Tim Micallef, motioning a swig of the fruity cocktail, best garnished with a toothpick umbrella.
“Ah… no. The end goal is this,” replied Ujiri, pointing to a finger where he’d like to place a championship ring. “You have to keep figuring it out until it gets there.”
“You are the saddest man on an eleven-game winning streak I have ever met,” said Sid Seixeiro.
And it was sad. Because there are no toothpick umbrellas in Raptorland. There is only the realization that having the All-Star tandem of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, the highest scoring backcourt in the East, along with a roster that plays smothering defense, is simply not enough.
But what’s missing?
Well, DeMarre Carroll for starters. There were high hopes for the 6-foot-8 swingman when the Raptors signed him to a four-year, $60-million deal this year. But Carroll was never at full strength in the games he’s played so far, and after knee surgery he’s out until late this season. It’s hard to predict whether the Raptors can get full value out of him in time for the playoffs.
The bench has filled in admirably, but without Carroll the Raptors lack a marquee player at the small forward.
So there’s an argument to be made that Toronto should shop around for another difference maker. The Raptors are as good as they have ever been. Maybe Ujiri should go all Alex Anthopoulos and become a local legend. He certainly looked happy in that ALDS champagne shower last fall.
With the trade deadline fast approaching, there might be an opportunity for Toronto to pick up a substantial upgrade using one of the team’s young assets and the grab bag of draft picks they own in the upcoming draft.
There are options on the market. The Atlanta Hawks are reportedly shopping their best player, Al Horford, and his expiring contract. The rumour mill (aka people on the Internet) is also wondering if forward Kenneth Faried might be a timely addition to the Raptors frontcourt. The 26-year-old power forward was drafted by Ujiri when he was in charge of the Denver Nuggets. Now that the Nuggets are in a rebuilding mode, perhaps Ujiri will try to add Faried’s proven ability to the Raptors frontcourt.
But would that be enough? What kind of player would give the Raptors a legitimate shot at getting past LeBron James and the Cavs? Blake Griffin (fists and all)… Carmelo Anthony… Dwight Howard… DeMarcus Cousins?
Okay, okay, okay — settle down. Things got out of hand there.
In the end, Raptors fans, what you see is most likely what you’re going to get. Masai Ujiri is not a fan of deadline deals.
“Only two players have made an impact on winning a championship after being traded at the deadline,” he said on Tim and Sid. “Clyde Drexler and Rasheed Wallace.” (That sounds totally believable. Fact checkers, post below.)
The Raptors are most likley to focus on what they have this season and to prove that they are close enough to being a real contender — so that DeRozan re-signs when his contract expires at the end of the season.
That’s the most reasonable expectation. You have to be good before you’re great, and the Raptors are on the cusp of something special. Until then, let’s lay off the Mai Tais.