There are low expectations for the Raptors, if there are any expectations at all, for the first time in about five years. After a few seasons of heightened expectations, the Raptors and its fan-base have come crashing down to earth.
Don’t worry, no one was injured in the landing. It turns out it wasn’t that high of a drop.
No one is as down on the Raptors as the analysts and so-called experts predicting this odd arrangement of players to finish with 60-plus losses and dead last in either the Eastern Conference or the entire NBA. For the record, I don’t buy that. Sure, they may not be as good as some delusional fans want them to be, but they do have enough talent and unsuspecting depth to hit the 30-win mark.
I’d say 60 losses is a bottom-out number if everything goes wrong, while flirting with .500 is a ceiling if everything goes right.
The real questions is, what do the fans expect? More importantly, what do the fans really want from this team?
If the predictions are accurate Toronto could be looking at the top-pick in the 2011 NBA draft; certainly a top-five pick. If the team over-achieves and hits its ceiling, they are probably looking at a middle-pick. In other words, a good way to remain mediocre for a long time.
So how does a fan approach this season? No self-respecting fan can truly root against their team. But at the same time, in the back of that fan’s mind, the addition of a no. 1 pick to an already decent young core has to make you wonder. Do you cheer, hope and pray that your team surprises the critics this year, only to possibly mortgage away the future?
The answer is not black and white. There’s a shade of gray that must be discussed. Because the answer is, it depends.
It all depends on how this team gets to wherever it is going this season.
If the Raptors bumble and stumble to 60 losses, fine. Add a top pick, a good trade-exception piece and a solid addition with some cap space, and now it suddenly seems that the sun is rising again.
If the team over-achieves and even makes the playoffs with long-term pieces like DeMar DeRozan, Amir Johnson, Andrea Bargnani, Linas Kleiza, Ed Davis and a couple of others enjoying eye-opening, breakout seasons, then I think you have to take that. There’s nothing wrong with that because it is an improvement that should continue to evolve over time.
However, if this team wins 35-40 games, qualifies for the playoffs or comes close to it, but they do it at the expense of the development of guys like DeRozan, Johnson and Davis, then they will be worse off than if they had lost 70 games.
Fans of Canada’s lone NBA franchise should be rooting for the development of the team’s youth this season, no matter how it happens. If they develop through the growing pains of a 20-62 record, so be it. As long as they are developing and improving. If they improve and grow together over a surprising season that truly excites us for the future, even better.
Of course the great unknown of this season is what Bryan Colangelo does with his mammoth trade-exception. Does he bring in some youth and developing players for the future, or does he send youth packing in exchange for a couple of veterans who can make this team good now, screaming “to hell with the future?”
The first true measuring stick against the season’s expectations will come this week, with a four-game Western road trip that rolls through Sacramento, Utah, the Lakers and Portland.
The expectations would tell you 0-4 should be expected. 1-3 would likely be an accomplishment. 2-2 or anything better, and fans hoping for that 60-loss season and a top-pick might start getting nervous early.