Despite the Raptors’ poor start and early struggles to the condensed season, most of my posts have still been somewhat positive, though I’d like to think of them as realistic.

I’ve written about how bright the future of this franchise could look in just six months time, and I meant it. But I wrote posts like that with hopes of a few things coming to fruition.

I came into this season thinking there were two ways the Raptors could take a step forward. The less popular of those outcomes might have been if this year’s team over-achieved and actually contended for a playoff spot on the backs of break-out seasons from guys like DeMar DeRozan, Ed Davis and other members of the team’s young core. Had that happened, I would have been content with adding a decent draft pick, Jonas Valanciunas and salary cap space to what would appear to be an already emerging young group.

The more realistic outcome I saw occurring was that under Dwane Casey, the Raptors would give us plenty of competitive contests and the odd upset victory or two with the young core all developing, all while still losing enough games to land Toronto a top-five pick in a loaded draft class. To many, including myself, this was probably the best case scenario. Develop the young core, get them game-tested in close games and tight battles, then add a great draft pick, Valanciunas and the aforementioned cap space.

Unfortunately, a quarter of the way through the lockout-shortened season, neither of those outcomes is looking very likely, and so far the only bright light at the end of the tunnel for Raptors fans is that this season will be over rather quickly.

DeMar DeRozan and Ed Davis, who I still do have high hopes for, may have taken a step backwards in their development. Amir Johnson and James Johnson, while providing the odd spark, have still been too inconsistent to be taken seriously as integral parts of any future building plans. Jerryd Bayless has only played in four games so far because of an ankle injury. When it comes to the Raptors’ 25-and-under “core,” virtually no questions have been answered in this season that’s supposed to be about finding out what we have here.

To me, the only concrete positive developments so far are that Andrea Bargnani actually looks like a legitimate starting power forward, and an above average one at that (though he’s only played 11 games this season and is currently nursing a strained calf), and that Dwane Casey looks like a legitimate NBA head coach who can get a sad-sack of defensive talent to look competent.

Add this mostly negative opening quarter of the season to the fact that the Raptors have lost eight straight (and are still navigating through a tough stretch of the schedule) and are 4-13, and the only positive thing Raptors fans can talk about is the 2012 Draft.

Unfortunately, even that might depress you.

Today, I looked at the NBA standings in depth for the first time this season, and saw something frightening from a Raptors perspective. At 4-13, I just assumed that Toronto had to have one of the worst two or three records in the league. Instead, despite being on pace for just 15.5 wins, the Raps are still fifth-worst in the NBA.

If you’re a “Tank-Nation” subscriber thinking that Toronto’s current pace will easily see them land a top-three pick, think again. Teams already below them or around them in the standings, like the Wizards, Bobcats, Hornets, Pistons and Nets could easily play their way to a sub-Raptors record.

How depressing would it be if the Raptors continue to play as poorly as they have been recently, don’t see any development from young players like DeRozan and Davis, finish with around 50 losses out of 66 games, and still don’t land a top-three or even top-five pick this June?

Maybe it’s the hangover from another lengthy losing streak, maybe it’s symptoms of the late January blues, but whatever the case, this frightening thought has suddenly popped into my head.

Sorry to further depress you on what many experts believe is already the most depressing day of the calendar year.

Here’s hoping that in a month’s time, when we look back at the first half of the 2011-2012 season, we have more encouraging things to discuss.