So tank nation was given a serious blow when Masai Ujiri met with the media. Ujiri suggested that he does not invasion a dismantling of this roster in the short term. Tank nation with visions of Andrew Wiggins dancing in their head must have taken the news like there would be no Christmas this year.
I had expressed on Twitter that for those that were suggesting the Raptors would have a fire sale were probably not right. Ujiri wants to at least see what he has with this team. All of the moves he has made did not suggest he was looking to tank the season away.
The Bargnani trade was a move that was badly needed and everyone seemed to know that. He was able to get return for a player that many would have been fine with him being amnestied. Now instead the Raptors have a shooter in Novak and three draft picks including a first round pick. While this move is one that is about future assets and along with addition by subtraction it was not a blatant move to tank.
The Raptors signed Julyan Stone and plan to have him back-up Kyle Lowry. Stone was a third stringer on Denver but was signed by Ujiri. So Masai sees something in him and is giving him a shot to step up make himself a legitimate back-up in the NBA. He also is a unique prospect based on his size and has a defensive reputation that fits with what Casey wants from defensive first mentality.
The Tyler Hansbrough move also is a move to fit the Casey mindset. It is also is to erase a reputation of the Raptors being labelled as soft according to Ujiri when he addressed the media yesterday. It also is a smart deal that fits in this two year window where the Raptors have a lot of their talent tied up with contracts. If Hansbrough doesn’t workout Raptors hold the option on the two year deal and can part ways after this season.
Ujiri also indirectly has stated he has no interest in just giving away talent like Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan. Many focus on the fact that both of these guys have similar strengths and weaknesses. While it is foolish to say there is not a point to that, it doesn’t mean you can’t still make it work. Jonny Davis did a poor job with the offence in general and with Gay and DeRozan specifically. The Raptors have brought in Nick Nurse who is expected to take over the offence. Maybe he can find a way to get something out of these two as a tandem. Don’t we at least want to see if that is possible before we throw one away for next to nothing?
If you are in favour of tanking just because the Raptors don’t take steps now doesn’t mean they have to keep on this path. Ujiri when he establishes what he has and hasn’t with this team he can easily change direction prior to the deadline. If you look when he had the Carmelo Anthony drama to deal with he was pushed in the media to make a deal. He did not listen to the noise and took his time and eventually cut a deal that was widely praised.
There is a lot to be said for dealing from a position of power. If you cave to the pressure and the noise that is never going to happen it takes strength to be a leader. Ujiri seems to have the respect of his peers and seems to be a very calculated guy. Colangelo seemed to react to the noise and either get defensive or quickly make a move.
This is without mentioning it is extremely hard to enter a season where the goal is to lose. It may make sense to take the risk and try to improve through the draft. However, if the ultimate goal is simply Wiggins or bust, which is only a 25% shot and only if you find a way to be the absolute worst. Not to mention good luck attempting to be worse than the Bobcats, Sixers and Celtics this year. In fact that is just the tip of the tank iceberg.
The NBA looking outside of just our Raptors’ bubble needs to solve this problem. Tanking was suppose to be eliminated by the advent of the NBA Draft Lottery but that is clearly not happening when a big star the likes of Wiggins comes along with a strong draft class behind him.
It is just not right as well. It morally feels wrong. It hurts your entire organization on some level to tank with the hope you get lucky and can wash it all away. It is one thing to establish during a season that you have no chance and to look ahead to the next season. It is another to enter a season with the main goal to lose. Teams that do that deserve to lose at the end of the day.
I like the approach the Ujiri is taking while many may find fault with it, I think it is the smart way to go about this. Two years from now the Raptors have very few commitments contract wise and if things are not working out in the next two years you can slowly transition to a proper rebuild.
So the tank is in the garage and now the question becomes what the Raptors can do. If they can’t be a playoff team as constructed we can always pull the tank out of the garage. It might not make you the very worst but only 3 times has the very worst landed the number one pick in 20 years.
In the end the Raptors can still end up with a ticket in the Wiggins Lottery if this team fails to perform. It likely would mean the end for Dwane Casey. It could be a very new beginning for the Raptors though. As Ujiri said this process is going that will require patience. Patience on both ends of the spectrum are sorely lacking that enduring 18 years of complete frustration. So it is not easy.