Is it time to rebuild for the Toronto Raptors?
The Raptors are rolling, but is it time to consider starting from scratch?
It is clear that this year's Toronto Raptors is more potent than it was in previous seasons. Raptors shooting guard DeMar DeRozan has made fantastic strides this season, as he is shooting an impressive 48.5% from the field while adding a 3-point shot to his offensive arsenal and becoming more of a facilitator on offense.
Head coach Dwane Casey has also done a good job of implementing more ball movement in the offense, as the Raptors are averaging 22.9 assists this season compared to 18.5 last year. All this has the Raptors standing at 25-10, good for second place in the Eastern Conference.
So why should the Raptors consider rebuilding? It boils down to what the Raptors' true goal is. Is it simply to make the Playoffs every year, earn the post-season ticket revenue, only to be eliminated in the first or second round to a LeBron James-led squad (2016, 2017)? Or is it to compete for the ultimate prize - the franchise's first Larry O'Brien trophy?
This is a critical crossroads that the Raptors face. If Raptors fans are satisfied with just making the Playoffs, then so be it. But if Raptors fans crave more, they must face the music and accept that the Raptors, as currently constructed, are in no position to compete for a championship. While their overall record is impressive, the reality is that the Raptors have enjoyed one of the easiest schedules in the NBA, and are only 5-7 against teams with a record above .500 this season.
Moreover, the Raptors have a whopping $164.7 million dollars committed in their core of Lowry, DeRozan and Ibaka for the next two seasons alone, virtually eliminating any chance of signing a marquee free agent. And while the Raptors have some promising young pieces, it is doubtful that any of them will reach All-Star level in the NBA. So unless DeRozan can somehow morph into his childhood idol Kobe Bryant, it is hard to see the Raptors taking the step to becoming true contenders.
Although the Adam Silver and the NBA have disincentivized tanking, the Raptors should strongly explore trading their core players if they truly want to compete for a championship. Lowry and DeRozan's trade values may never be higher than right now, while Ibaka is also showing signs of significant decline. The Raptors' blind faith in their players' potential has led to many blunders by management in the past.
Remember when the Oklahoma City Thunder offered to trade someone named James Harden for an unproven center in Jonas Valanciunas, and the Raptors said no? Today, one player is a bonafide mega-star while the other is averaging a career-low 21 minutes per game and sitting out entire fourth quarters.
Should the Raptors hold on to Lowry and DeRozan for a few more years when both players will be out of their primes, and the Raptors will receive next to nothing for them.
That's not to say that every team not named the Warriors or the Cavaliers should rebuild. For instance, the Rockets always have a puncher's chance, while the Celtics, Bucks, and Timberwolves are all teams with young, superstar talent with dynasty potential. Although the Raptors are on par with these teams for now, however, they do not have the same upward trajectory that these teams do, and are at risk of being left behind in the dust within a few years.
Rebuilding today also makes sense, since by the time the Raptors will be a legitimate threat again, LeBron will be on the brink of retirement and the Warriors will likely not be together anymore, leaving the door open for new, young teams to compete.
So while accepting mediocrity would be a tough pill to swallow for the Raptors passionate and loyal fan base, it is necessary if the Raptors want any hope of delivering a title to the true North strong and free.