Raptors this week: As deadline looms, it’s now or never to add to core

Kyle Lowry, pictured above. (Nathan Denette/CP)

Throughout the 2016-17 NBA season we’ll take a look back at the week that was and set up the week to come in Raptorland.

Losers of eight of their last 11 games and having dropped to fourth in the Eastern Conference with just a half-game lead up on the Atlanta Hawks, the Toronto Raptors are in real trouble.

This, compounded with DeMar DeRozan’s ill-timed injury, Patrick Patterson’s inability to stay healthy this season, and Cory Joseph’s current status (not-said-to-be-but-in-actuality in coach Dwane Casey’s doghouse for his poor play) has made the situation the Raptors are in as close to a crisis condition as there can be without actually pressing that panic button.

As such, this begs the question: Did this current incarnation of the Raptors already reach their ceiling and are now beginning the long, precipitous fall back to earth? And if so, doesn’t that mean it’s pretty much now or never to make a push with this core?

The Raptors have very tough decisions to make on Kyle Lowry and Patterson in the off-season. Both will be free agents, and both will be looking for significant raises – in the case of Lowry he’ll be seeking a top-tier max contract (35 per cent of a team’s cap).

With this reality staring Toronto in the face just fourth months from now, it’s likely this season will be the last with one or even both of these players. Lowry’s departure would obviously hurt the most, but, as has become very apparent this season, Patterson is almost as important for what the Raptors want to accomplish.

Therefore, Masai Ujiri and Co. have to make a deadline move or they may as well abandon this Raptors team as constructed and look to begin to tear it down.

Ujiri has been incredibly conservative during his tenure with Raptors. Other than trading Rudy Gay, a move that accidently set into motion this period of Raptors prosperity, and drafting Bruno Caboclo, a pick that’s done absolutely nothing to help this current Raptors team, Ujiri has opted for slow and steady team building.

It’s a strategy that’s worked thus far, mainly because of how friendly the team’s core players’ contracts have been. But starting with DeMarre Carroll’s four-year $60-million deal – a contract that keeps looking worse and worse because of his diminishing skills – and continuing with DeRozan’s mega deal this past off-season the Raptors’ cap situation is an issue.

The team’s financial situation should spur Ujiri and his staff into action, one way or the other. Besides, it’s not as if bold mid-season moves are anything new to Ujiri. Remember, he once had a trade done that would’ve sent Lowry to the New York Knicks. Additionally, this is the man who traded Carmelo Anthony while with the Denver Nuggets.

Despite his track record in Toronto, the big headline-grabbing move is part of what makes Ujiri who he is.

So the time is now. The Raptors are floundering, and even if they manage to recover and get themselves back into the top-two of the Eastern Conference, this team as we know it won’t exist anymore, anyway.

Pull the trigger or start pulling back.

Point guard controversy
Hey, remember those days when the Raptors would bring in a point guard to be the starter but Jose Calderon would just flat-out outplay said guy thus creating something of a point guard controversy?

It looks like those days are starting to creep back.

For a reason no one seems to be willing to tell, backup lead guard Joseph has been benched in favour of undrafted rookie Fred VanVleet.

Joseph has been poor this season, and has been especially bad during this 11-game stretch, so it makes sense that he’d be benched as a kind of wake-me-up. Only thing, though, is that Casey says he isn’t in the “doghouse” or anything like that.

Even more curious is the fact VanVleet has been taking Joseph’s primary backup minutes. He made the team out of training camp as the third point guard mainly because Delon Wright wouldn’t be good to go until January.

Wright’s healthy now, but he still can’t get any burn, something that’s confusing considering he’s the team’s first-round pick from 2015 meaning he’s making a lot more money than VanVleet and the team supposedly has made a deeper commitment to him.

Except that doesn’t appear to be the case based off the last two games.

A point guard controversy is one of the last things the Raptors need right now. Lowry’s playing the most minutes-per-game in the league (37.7) and needs a reliable and consistent backup to help spur him some rest.

The Raptors need to figure this all out fast.

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