The Tank-Force is getting stronger around the NBA. Are the Raptors up for the "challenge?"

With just a day remaining until the NBA’s trade deadline, most teams have played around 40 games or so. Even in a shortened season, this should be the point where contenders and pretenders are separated (hence, the Knicks’ recent disappearing act).

The time is now for contenders to assert their will or make a move to put them in position for a run through May and June. Those moves get all the publicity and all of the blogger love, but just as important and future-shaping are the moves that pretenders make to position themselves for a draft day bonanza.

Ridicule Tank Nation all you want, talk about the valuable experience young teams can get from meaningless first round sweeps as the eighth seed (which is only valuable if it’s a young team on the rise with already set core pieces). The truth is that this is the time for NBA cellar-dwellers to stake their claim to futility in the hopes that it will lead to sustainable future success.

The Warriors replaced an inefficient scorer with an oft-injured centre. Between Andrew Bogut’sĀ and Stephen Curry’s injury problems, Golden State should be on the cusp of a heavy duty tank job. If it works, and they end up with a top-five pick in 2012 to add to Curry, Bogut, David Lee and Klay Thompson, they may not be in bad shape.

The Nets, who are right in the thick of the lottery chase with the Raptors (Toronto’s a half-game better right now), will sit Deron Williams when the two teams meet tonight in New Jersey (Not suggesting Williams isn’t really banged up, but it doesn’t hurt to sit him either). If the Nets don’t land Dwight Howard before Thursday’s deadline, I assume we’ll see a schooling of epic proportions on how to tank.

The Bobcats, Wizards and Hornets couldn’t avoid tanking if they tried, and I’m still convinced that the Cavaliers, if they know what’s good for them, will come crashing back to earth soon. The Kings are somewhat of a Wizards West.

What that leaves us with, as Raptors fans, is the realization that although Bryan Colangelo and co. seem committed to the rebuild, something likely needs to be done, or some good luck disguised as bad luck needs to interfere, to help the Raps in their lottery quest.

Dwane Casey is too good of a coach and too competitive of a guy to stand by and facilitate a proper tank, so the Raptors’ only hope of out-losing their Tank Nation opponents might have to come “from above.” I’m hoping it comes from valuable trades that net Toronto draft picks and/or young assets in exchange for serviceable veterans, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of trade chatter out there involving the Raps right now.

What exactly can be done though? Trade Calderon? Trade Barbosa? Trade ‘em both? Sit Bargnani, Calderon and Barbosa for random games?

It’s been a concern of ours all season, and I’ve tried to avoid thinking about it in great detail, but seriously, look at the standings right now (Good God, the 14-28 Raptors are just four games back of a playoff spot) and tell me you’re truly confident with this team’s chances at a top-three or even top-five pick.

As things currently stand, I don’t know if I can.