As we sit here on the first Monday of January the Raptors sit tied for 11th in the Eastern Conference with a record of 11-22. In the West we could honestly start talking about next season with a record like that. In the East though the Bucks sit 13-18 in the final playoff spot. Compare that to the West where Portland holds that 8th position at 18-16. While the playoffs remain a mathematical possibility it is highly unlikely it happens for the Raptors. All indications are this team is looking toward next season and beyond to be competitive.
What Colangelo is banking on is the New CBA and the bigger the owners win likely the bigger the Raptors will win to a point. Let's just take one small thing that the owners have wanted and use it as an example. They want to scrap the MLE (Mid Level Exception) all together. So if that were to happen it instantly takes teams that are over the cap out of the running in free agency. So the Raptors with cap room would be able to offer the most dollars to top level free agents. The option of a player taking less to play on a contender would almost be wiped away. Unless they are willing to take the league minimum to do it, or a contending team would actually have cap space of their own. Given the recent moves in Orlando and Miami it is not going to be them. In fact you go and find a contending team that has cap space, there is none that spring to mind. Maybe the Knicks? Thanks to the frenzy of activity for 2010 there is not a lot of teams with money to spend.
Toronto also has a group of young players that if the group can stick together could be very good with the addition of one or two top tier players. While lots of people make a lot of noise about playing in Toronto, if the team was able to win those detractors would not be as loud. If there is less competition in terms of free agency Toronto starts to look a lot more attractive to folks. Also when you consider to make the jump to the playoffs and being a contender in the East is a lot easier, that is another plus in the Raptors favour.
Colangelo is setting up the team in a way that it can be a contender in the NBA under the new CBA. It would seem that the owners are set on doing all they can to create a much more restrictive collective agreement and that will make the cap room the Raptors will have even more valuable. While talk of a lockout looms the end result of this latest labour war will be of huge importance to the Raptors moving forward. Colangelo has always tried to stay ahead of the curve in his moves as a G.M. He has shoved all the chips he can find in, betting on the owners winning to some degree in this new CBA. The moves he makes once that new CBA is established will make or break the Raptors for the next 5 years. He is going to have one final shot at getting it right.
Why is it so vital he gets it right other than the obvious ones. If he doesn't this new CBA will also likely lock him into the choices he has made and trading away his mistakes will not be as easy as it has been under the current CBA. So the next moves Colangelo makes have to be the right ones or the Raptors could be doomed for a long time to come. However, if he hits it right the Raptors could vault into the mix in the East as soon as next season and have a foundation to be a contender for the future.
In a sense this is a season in limbo for the Toronto Raptors. But anything their young emerging players can do will help add to the sales pitch to bring some top tier players to Toronto. Demar DeRozan and Andrea Bargnani can be good solid players and if you added another couple proven talents into the fold, the Raptors could have a very appealing line-up when they suit up for next season. Assuming there is a next season that is. It seems almost unthinkable the NBA would be as stupid as the NHL and let an entire season go away just to win a labour battle. However, sanity in labour negotiations seldom happens.
It is a scary time for all of the NBA. But when the sun comes up and new CBA is in place, it could be a time for Raptor Fans to rejoice. Bryan Colangelo for whatever you think of him, always has a plan. If this one works it might be his greatest one since signing a guy from Canada to come play of the Suns.