Hey, have you seen the reports? J.R. Smith could be heading to the Los Angeles Lakers! Or what about Tyler Johnson agreeing to a deal with the Brooklyn Nets!?
Though we’ve been hearing about the NBA’s return ad nauseam for the best month or so, it hasn’t really felt like the NBA was coming back until this week – and it’s not just because teams have convened with each other as league-wide testing begins in preparation of everyone involved heading down to the Disney campus.
No, instead, it’s because of the week-long transaction window (that’s slated to close June 30 at 11:59 p.m. ET) that we’re in right now that’s allowing teams to sign players to rest-of-season contracts (like the Memphis Grizzlies recently did with Anthony Tolliver), sign substitute players for players who choose not to play in Orlando (such is the case that the Lakers, Portland Trail Blazers and Washington Wizards need to do with reports that Avery Bradley, Trevor Ariza and Davis Bertans saying they won’t enter the bubble), sign two-way deals or convert two-way deals to standard ones, and just simply waive players.
In other words, the NBA’s hot stove has been fired back up, and while the names involved aren’t the sexiest it’s something exciting to talk about instead of just staring grimly at the rising cases of COVID-19 in Florida.
As such, because of how exciting things are right now, it’s understandable that if you’re a Toronto Raptors fan you might also be tempted to get swept up in the fervour.
After all, there are recognizable names that have been floated out there like Smith or Tyler Zeller reportedly heading to the San Antonio Spurs or even the still-unsigned Jamal Crawford.
Unfortunately for Raptors fans, however, even if they wanted to sign someone they’d only be able to do so if they waived an existing player because right now they have a full roster.
Yes, including two-way players Oshae Brissett and Paul Watson Jr., the Raptors have a full 17-man expanded roster, and looking at who the Raptors have now and those out there on the open market, while it may not be the fun decision, the right one is to just stick with the horses that got them to the third-best record in the NBA before the season suspension.
Quite frankly, the Raptors don’t need to make a move during this transaction window and here’s why.
They were pretty damn good already
Remember that point mentioned above of the Raptors holding the NBA’s third-best record, well that didn’t happen by fluke.
The fact is the Raptors were already an elite NBA club, something their second-ranked defensive rating and fourth-ranked net rating can attest to.
As such, while upgrades are always welcome, looking out at the landscape right now do you really see an improvement to be found over what the Raptors already have?
Look, Jamal Crawford was a really, really good player, but he’s 40 now. And even if he still has it and may qualify as more talented than some of the end-of-bench players on the Raptors, that still doesn’t mean he’d be the right fit for the team now mainly because there simply isn’t enough ramp-up time to get him adjusted to what the Raptors do.
If this was during around the time of the buyout market then the time could’ve been there, but for a Raptors team that relies heavily on its defence to win and with a coach who seemingly adds a new wrinkle to his coverages every game, even with a pre-resumption training camp, eight games before the playoffs hit simply isn’t enough to Crawford or any new name on the same page as the rest of the team.
And this is especially the case when you think about the fact that a lot of the existing team will need to re-adjust to playing with each other as a good chunk of the team has seen significant time out of the lineup injured this season. So why bother risking adding someone who hasn’t even been in-house this season at all when there’s already likely some chemistry kinks to hammer out before the post-season?
They figure to be even stronger than before
And on the topic of health, it can’t be underestimated what all this time off has done for the health of the Raptors who figure to go from one of the most banged-up teams in the league to, perhaps, fully healthy – barring anything COVID-19-related or any injury in training camp, of course.
The benefits of the defending champions back at full strength are obvious, but it’s worth pointing out that, essentially, for the entire season they’ve had at least one key member out with something and the bubble season figures to be the first real look at what these Raptors actually are.
And as ominous as that may sound, this should be something that excites Raptors fans. As mentioned before, the Raptors were already a very good team and they managed to accomplish all that while not being at full strength. So imagine the possibilities of what this team will be able to accomplish fully loaded.
Better yet, imagine that fully-loaded veteran-laden Raptors team with the benefit of more than four months off to rest the weary bones of key players like 30-year-old Serge Ibaka, 34-year-old Kyle Lowry and 35-year-old Marc Gasol.
All three of these players – and especially Gasol – have all played a ton of basketball over the past 12 months so any extra time off has to bode well for the Raptors as they’ve reached the stage of their career where they don’t need the 82-game grind to get them ready for when games matter the most and some ways it just limits their effectiveness as they try to pace themselves.
There, hopefully, will be no lingering injury that could hold any of the Raptors back and no inhibitor either when the season resumes. Factors that could see the Raptors looking better than ever this season – and all without needing to look for outside help.
Lastly, piggybacking off the last point, given all the success stories up and down the Raptors lineup why would you ever bank against the Raptors’ ability to grow and improve as individuals and as a team internally?
Remember, even though the Raptors have been banged up this season they still managed to win more than 70 per cent of their games this season and a big part of that was players who weren’t supposed to play much of any roles stepping up and filling in big such as Chris Boucher, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and especially rookie Terence Davis II.
With the team at full strength, it wouldn’t be surprising to see these guys return to their originally-intended limited roles, but given how much they’ve contributed it would be hard to see coach Nick Nurse not at least try them out for some important stretches at least during the eight-game tune-up and even in the first round of the playoffs.
A concern for the Raptors was a lack of depth outside of their core players, but with the contributions that this trio has shown this season they can, theoretically, go 10-men deep rather comfortably.
The development and growth have been there all season long, so why would it suddenly end just because there’s more pressure in the games?
This same rate of improvement is something the Raptors should be banking on and if they do the results could be an even stronger and deeper team, overall.
So there’s no need to look for exterior reinforcements because the reserves who might be able to help put Toronto over the top have been with the team all along.