The overall direction and eventual landing spot of the current Raptors’ rebuild has been on my mind for much of the summer, as I know it has been for some other Raps diehards, too. Whether you want to call it a rebuild, a retooling, or simply a build, as Bryan Colangelo now refers to this stage, it’s obvious that Toronto is in Year Three of some sort of plan, and that the Raptors will head into training camp next month with what is unquestionably the best post-Bosh roster yet.

In a recent piece for NBA.com, John Schuhmann doesn’t necessarily seem sold on the idea that the ceiling for this Raptors team is very high but he does seem to like the general direction of the franchise in his column titled “Raptors moving steadily along in their rebuilding phase.”

This brings us back to the question of what exactly the Toronto Raptors are building towards.

It would obviously be ideal to aim for championships and iconic dynasties, and while I believe Bryan Colangelo and co. desperately want that (who wouldn’t?), the recent rebuilding models of the Grizzlies and Pacers seem to be much more realistic for the Raptors then that of the Thunder or Heat.

Complain about that all you want, but you can’t really expect a team to purposely tank for more than a season or two, you can’t expect the casual fan to support the team through a prolonged and painful tank, and you can’t expect meaningful NBA players to randomly want to play in Toronto until the team shows that it’s committed to winning and building something meaningful in itself.

Unless your team resides in the New York area, the Los Angeles area or Miami, your team needs to take some sort of next step forward, hoping that a collection of assets and an eventual winning culture leads to an attractive NBA destination for stars.

I maintain that building a team that looks to be on the rise and establishing a winning culture in Toronto would make the city a top-10 destination for stars in the future, and if the Raptors can follow in the fresh footsteps of the aforementioned Grizzlies and Pacers in team building, we’ll get to see if I’m right about Toronto’s appeal.

So let’s see how the Grizzlies and Pacers got to where they are today.

*Note, the far right column includes prospects acquired through the draft, whether by using their own pick or trading within the draft. In addition, I didn’t include 2012 Draft results because I’m focusing on what led to the two teams’ most recent success in 2011-12.*

Grizzlies

Season How they finished What it led to in Draft
2006-07 22-60, 15th in West Mike Conley
2007-08 22-60, T13th in West O.J. Mayo, Darrell Arthur
2008-09 24-58, T11th in West Hasheem Thabeet, Demarre Carroll, Sam Young
2009-10 40-42, 10th in West Xavier Henry, Greivis Vasquez
2010-11 46-36, 8th in West Josh Selby
2011-12 50.9 wins (prorated to 82 games), 4th in West

If you count the 2006-07 season as the beginning of this rebuild for Memphis, you’ll see that it began with two major assets – Pau Gasol and a rookie named Rudy Gay (Ironically, Kyle Lowry and Damon Stoudamire were both on that Grizzlies roster, but neither played important roles in the team’s step forward). The Grizz traded Pau Gasol to the Lakers in the trade that brought brother Marc Gasol to town in 2008 and later traded Quentin Richardson to the Clippers for Zach Randolph in the summer of 2009. So heading into the 2009-10 season, the Grizzlies had a core of Rudy Gay, Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Mike Conley, and they improved by 16 wins that year, which would set the table for big steps forward in the following seasons.

In terms of the initial rebuilding stages, the Raptors seem to be on a faster track right now, as Memphis struggled through back-to-back 60 loss campaigns before upping their win total to 24 in Year Three. Toronto lost 60 games in the first year of the current build, but then upped their win total to a prorated number of 28.6 in the lockout-shortened Year Two.

Now let’s take a look at the Pacers. Indiana missed the playoffs for the first time in 10 seasons in 2006-07, finishing tied for ninth in the Eastern Conference with a 35-47 record, though all they had to show for it in the 2007 Draft was the rights to Stanko Barać. Who? Exactly, so let’s begin with the 2007-08 season, which led to a building block acquisition from the 2008 Draft.

Pacers

Season How they finished What it led to in Draft
2007-08  36-46, 9th in East Roy Hibbert, Brandon Rush (both draftees acquired in trades)
2008-09  36-46, 9th in East Tyler Hansbrough
2009-10  32-50, 10th in East Paul George, Lance Stephenson, Magum Rolle (great name)
2010-11  37-45, 8th in East Traded No.15 pick (Kawhi Leonard) to Spurs for George Hill
2011-12  52.2 wins (prorated), 3rd in East

Heading into that 2007-08 season, the Pacers had some good players, or at least somewhat valuable veteran players (Jermaine O’Neal), but looking back on it, the only true future building block they had in place was Danny Granger. And at the time, even Granger was far from a sure thing, as he entered the 2007-08 season with two NBA seasons under his belt where he averaged about 11 points, five rebounds and a Player Efficiency Rating of just 14.2.

Granger was a better defender and rebounder already, but at that stage of his career, you could probably make a fair comparison between the then 24-year-old and what DeMar DeRozan is as a 23-year-old heading into the 2012-13 season. And while I understand how misleading it can be to throw out these kinds of comparisons, I’m going to do it anyway, since I would say the Pacers drafting Roy Hibbert (through the Raptors) and Paul George and trading a few picks for George Hill is very comparable to the Raptors drafting Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross and trading a pick+Gary Forbes for Kyle Lowry.

Heck, I’d even say the drafting of Tar Heel big man Hansbrough 13th overall in 2009 is comparable to the drafting of Tar Heel big man Ed Davis 13th overall in 2010. For what it’s worth, Davis has put up competitive efficiency and defensive numbers with what Hansbrough did through two years, despite being three-and-a-half years younger than Tyler.

The closer comparison to the Pacers might bode well for the Raptors, as although the Grizzlies probably started with more to build with, the Pacers drafted much better, have the higher ceiling now, and also have much more financial flexibility going forward than the Grizzlies do.

Either way, at this point (Dwane Casey’s second season in charge but first full 82-gamer), the Raptors seem to be in a similar situation to where the Grizzlies were heading into the 2009-10 season (Lionel Hollins’ second season, and first full season, which ended up in 40 wins and a 10th place finish out West) and where the Pacers were heading into the 2010-11 season (where Frank Vogel eventually took over and which ended up in 37 wins and an eighth seed in the playoffs).

This pattern seems to gel with what I assume most people will project for the 2012-13 edition of the Raptors, as I can see this team finishing in the neighbourhood of 35-39 wins and a ninth or 10th place finish in the East, with a chance to sneak into the playoffs.

If the 2012-13 Raptors live up to that modest potential, Toronto seems to be in line for the kind of table-setting season Memphis enjoyed in 2009-10 and Indiana enjoyed in 2010-11. And if the organization commits to this build and makes the right adjustments here and there (which I’m not assuming is a given based on MLSE’s track record), it all could mean a couple of big steps forward for the Raptors in 2013-14 and 2014-15.

The Heat are an obvious powerhouse in the Eastern Conference for the foreseeable future, but there’s plenty up for debate after them. A healthy Bulls team, the Pacers, the Hawks and the entire Atlantic Division all have high hopes, but they also all have question marks going forward.

There is an opportunity here for the Raptors (and other building teams) to seize, and if they play their cards right, the Raps can achieve the recent success of the Pacers and Grizzlies – sooner than you realize, and in a much better and more sustainable market (sorry, Indiana and Memphis) than either of those teams did it in.