Well Team Black put the boots to Team Aaron Gray on Saturday. The teams made up for the Raptors inter-squad game seemed fairly one-sided. That was even more so when Rudy Gay seemed to be a step slow as advertised. He and his 20 extra pounds of muscle were not moving as fast. That combined with everyone in black that took a three was making it. This included DeMar DeRozan who was bragging on Media Day about his improvement from long range. His first shot in the scrimmage was a three that he made without breaking a sweat.
Team black also featured D.J Augustin, Steve Novak, Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas along with DeMar. Lowry was on the other side with Terrence Ross and the aforementioned Gay. Take it all for what it is worth but the guys in the black jerseys had a much better day. Tyler Hansbrough did not suit up for either side as he was held out with hamstring issue. It was said to be a precautionary measure and nothing to be concerned about.
The Raptors start for real tonight in Boston. The Celtics are already in the Andrew Wiggins chase before they ever tip up a ball for this season. Rondo is injured and Pierce and Garnett are now on the Nets. No offence to Canadian Kelly Olynck but it is going be a long year in Boston. The Celtics have tried this whole tanking thing before and failed to land Greg Oden. They took their well earned fourth overall pick and used it in a trade to get Ray Allen who joined Kevin Garnett to create the original Big Three before the Heat came up with their version. Speaking of Oden, who has been an injury waiting to happen, he is trying to keep his career going with the Heat.
So for those banging the “don’t tank drum”, Boston is your example of how it can not work out for you. They however in the end were very lucky as it turned out and made much better than lemonade out of the situation. Portland on the other hand ended up the lucky ones that took Oden over Kevin Durant.
In any case as I debated on Twitter over the weekend, I am much more interested in a lottery ticket than a first round playoff sweep if the Raptors fall in the seventh or eighth seed. In fact, I would consider this season a complete disaster if the Raptors finished between 7-10 in the standings. That is doing nothing for the long term future of this team.
The good news is the way the Raptors schedule is constructed you are going to know in first two months if this team is any kind of threat. I am not going to say they will have an especially bad start like last year with a 4-19 start. After all, they never had Rudy Gay and a much improved bench that they do now. It would not shock me if they were well below .500 though by the time 2014 rolls around. If that is the case the Raptors need to tear this down a bit to position themselves in the draft lottery.
That likely would mean trading Kyle Lowy and Rudy Gay most likely and perhaps several others. That said, if you caught the highlights of Andrew Wiggins from early Saturday morning in a Kansas inter-squad game you understand why the NBA is all about tanking for his services in the draft. Have a look and try not to drool:
I got a first hand look in Hamilton and this kid is all that people say about him and more. Not since Lebron James have we seen this kind of talent at the high school level. Ok maybe, since Kevin Durant is more realistic. Whatever the case Andrew Wiggins is one of those special talents that you can say with some certainty will be the number one pick in the draft. Unlike Anthony Bennett getting selected this year at number one, it will shock no one to hear Wiggins name said by Adam Silver. What is the question for every team that knows they can't win this season is what team it will be too.
The simple fact is Wiggins would mean more to the Raptors than any place else as he would be literally a franchise changer for the team. I like his individual upside much more than I do this group of Raptors without him. This group does deserve a chance to make their case on why we should have faith in them. As many will tell you the team with the worst record seldom wins the NBA Lottery. You just need a ticket to win, but if the Raptors struggle it would be irresponsible not to shift focus to Wiggins and this highly talent draft class behind him.
Funny things tend to happen in that NBA Lottery over the years. Cleveland just so happened to land Lebron James. Chicago native Derrick Rose just so happened to become a Bull. The Bulls only had a 5.7% chance of that happening. Rigged or legit the stakes are far too high for the Raptors to not at least be interested in having a pony in that race.
It is going be a strange season with a lot of people with a lot of different agendas as part of this story. Kyle Lowry is in a contract year and needs to perform well personally. Rudy Gay eyeing free agency this off-season or next depending on what makes the most sense. Dwane Casey coaching for his job has to win at the end of the day. Masai Ujiri looking to reshape this Raptor franchise into a true contender for the long haul. Along with a Raptor fan base that might be the most divided it has been since Jose Calderon and T.J Ford were here. Some fans, clearly wanting to see the Raptors sport camouflage jerseys all year and tank for Wiggins. While others are desperate to see this group grow and make the post-season and leave the Andrew Wiggins talk for free agency 5-10 years down the road.
As much as people and these players want to succeed it really is conflicting to what Andrew Wiggins could mean for this franchise. Wiggins is an instant game changer and the fact he stated he wants to be here only added fuel to a fire that was already raging. Like it or not that is the back drop to this season. Raptors fans will have one eye on Kansas and one eye on the Raptors. They will not be alone as other teams like Boston have already unofficially entered the race for Andrew Wiggins. If Boston or Philadelphia were successful that would be a painful pill to swallow for Raptors fans for years to come. This will be especially true if this current group flounders and falls apart without him. You can take Damon, Vince and Tracy all leaving and multiply it by ten and it still might not hurt as much as this would.
It is a strange season that is about to get underway and however it plays out will have a huge impact on the future of this franchise.