The Raptors feel like the girlfriend that cheated on you that wants you back. I mean after all the pain you have had to endure as a fan of this franchise it is hard to trust them again. Will Kyle Lowry be the latest in a long line of people that have left us disappointed and feeling like we are not good enough some how?
If you are one of those people that can live in the moment and not remember the past or worry about the future you can truly enjoy what is happening with the Raptors right now. It has reached the point you can no longer consider what the Raptors have done since the Rudy Gay trade just some sort of fluke.
A win over the best team record wise in the NBA was the latest point of proof this group of Raptors offered to the world. The Pacers are a legit team and perhaps the largest roadblock to Miami winning a third straight NBA Championship. Paul George and Roy Hibbert are now considered legit superstars in this league.
The reality of folks dreaming for a Cinderella like story of Andrew Wiggins coming to the Raptors and being the franchise Savior is all but dead. According to statistical analysis that ESPN provides the Raptors are a 99% lock to make the NBA Playoffs in the terrible Eastern Conference.
While I have been one of the people that think the Raptors getting Wiggins would have been a franchise altering event it is clear to see that day is not coming in the short term for this franchise. What I have always said is the simple fact that the players that make up this roster and Dwane Casey had no interest in losing and always had the goal of winning.
The Rudy Gay trade to the Kings has had an impact that has been more than any trade I can recall in recent memory in any sport. It is not just about what the Raptors got rid of or what they acquired completely. In that regard what they got rid of was a clear anchor to their offensive success and in return they added a group of players that has given them a legit second unit.
It has had a significant impact on many of the remaining Raptors as well in addition to this. The Raptors struggled with ball movement prior to Gay being moved and now they have excellent movement of the ball. They now have a free flowing offensive attack and with addition of Greivois Vasquez bringing back the pick and roll play the Raptors lost in acquiring Gay.
This has led to more inspired play and a greater offensive contribution from both Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas. That contribution has made them more energized and excited and carried over to defensive end of the floor as well.
Kyle Lowry who may very well have been the only player that misses Rudy Gay still has been playing at the elite level he did when he first arrived with the Raptors. He would be injured and never really got back to that level until recently.
Terrence Ross who was struggling to see time on the floor has suddenly been thrown into the fire with more minutes and is producing on the offensive end of the floor at the best rate of his young career. When he struggles on the defensive end Dwane Casey has been able to plug in a veteran like John Solomons to close the gaps when the game is on the line. Ross is given a longer window to prove himself on a night in and night out basis. While I have been highly critical of Ross it would be foolish to suggest he has not answered the bell since the Gay trade.
Perhaps the biggest thing of all has been the impact on DeMar DeRozan from all of this. He was a huge defender of the fact he and Rudy could make an effective duo for the Raptors. The truth be told when Gay was acquired he was considered the better of the two players. The reality of things is since that time I would venture to say that DeRozan has passed him and is the better and more consistent player.
In addition DeRozan seems ready to take on the role as the number one option for a team something he has not been in the past. His confidence in being able to make long range shots has allowed him to have more success in making that shot. It in addition has opened up his game to a whole different level. His steady improvement as passer and playmaker has also made him a far more effective number one option in comparison to Gay.
The most rewarding thing of all for someone that has been here since he was drafted and first talked with him as a rookie in Ottawa is that he is a true leader. You see how much this young man has been made sick of losing and he now has started to figure out what he can do to stop it.
DeRozan has always worked hard but he now is not just working hard but playing smarter and having a greater understanding of the game and his role in it. The fact he has become a father seems to have matured him and settled him off the floor as well. All his fire, passion and frustration seems to be much more under control. I have always seen DeRozan as a player with some deep down anger in him that when he is able to channel it correctly can make him highly effective. DeRozan is not a bad person in any sense the exact opposite but on the floor I see a different guy that has a lot of fire and aggression in his game.
The Raptors for the moment have captured lighting in a bottle. If they are able to keep it beyond this season is a real question but as for this season they have more than stated their claim to what they are capable of doing.
The Challenge for Masai Ujiri is to do what Glen Grunwald and Bryan Colangelo failed to do in keeping that together for a long period of time. The reality is the Eastern Conference can not possibly get much worse than it is this season. Can Masai keep the Raptors growth to the same level that the Eastern Conference is going to improve? His acquiring draft picks for Andrea Bargnani is something that could help in that regard. In general though he needs to make Toronto something it has never really been as a viable destination to come play basketball with a group that is growing and building towards being a contender.
Grunwald and Colangelo failed at this badly. If Ujiri can re-sign Lowry that would be the simplest answer to many to solve the problem moving forward for the Raptors future. It may not be the only answer if he could find someone to plug in that position. The fact the Raptors now have a one-two punch at point guard has been a big difference resulting from the Gay trade. Heading into next season they need that combination to maintain success. Vasquez will also be a RFA heading into the off-season.
The Raptors from the very beginning have been a team that has been a franchise that has been as good as their point guard position has allowed them to be. It will remain to be a key to their future going forward.
For now a lot of Raptors fans just want to enjoy the moment and quite honestly with all this fan base has endured you can understand that. Losing sucks and winning is fun it really is that simple. Even people that support tanking are not truly gleeful at losing as they often get portrayed. They come to a realization or a hope that enduring the pain of losing in the short term will be rewarded with a more secure and winning future. Everyone wants a team that can not only win now but win in the future and improve to win more.
The Raptors have proven that they are at least good enough to compete in the winning now part of equation. For a lot of long suffering Raptors fans that is enough for now.