I don’t think anyone thought the 2012-13 Raptors were going to contend for anything more than a low seeded playoff berth, but most of us thought they’d still be playing meaningful basketball in late March. Even despite the torturous 4-19 start to the season, the Raps still managed to get within 2.5 games of a playoff spot in early January and within four games of the top-eight in late February after an impressive run over Rudy Gay’s first few weeks in Toronto.
Unfortunately, a week of losses to teams like the Wizards and Cavs immediately following that run sent the Raptors crash-landing back to earth, and for the most part, they’ve been playing pretty meaningless games since then. Throw in the fact that Andrea Bargnani is done for the season (though we’re still not sure when he even checked in) and the recent news that Rudy Gay is a candidate to be shut down with some nagging back issues and the final three or four weeks of this season are going to be painful to watch.
Yet again, another Raptors season is going to end with games that mean more to the bottom of the standings and draft positioning than they do to playoff positioning. Forget looking forward to late April. As Raptors fans, we’ve become all too familiar with looking ahead to the off-season and next season while the current season is still dragging on.
It’s all the more painful this year, since the Raptors likely won’t have a high draft pick to fall back on come June. The 2013 draft class is one of the weakest we’ve seen in years, so losing out on a pick isn’t the end of the world since late lottery picks and even mid-to-late first round picks in 2014 will likely be better than many top-10 picks in 2013. But lottery picks have value far beyond just the draft itself, as they can be useful assets in engineering significant trades. And from that perspective, with the playoffs and meaningful games well out of reach, Raptors fans might be considering hopping on the tank again.
Personally, I’d actually prefer if the Raptors lose their pick this year so that they get the compensation from the Kyle Lowry trade out of the way in a weak draft year and have their own first round pick again in the coming years. But the chances of Toronto suddenly slumping into their own pick increase with every depressing loss. Remember that the Raptors need to land a top-three pick at the Draft Lottery (or make the playoffs) to keep their pick this year.
Charlotte and Orlando are all but assured of a bottom two finish and the best odds at a top-two pick. After that, nine teams are separated by just 4.5 games, meaning the Raptors could realistically finish anywhere from the 11th-worst record (20th place) in the league to the third-worst record (28th place). The 76ers and John Wall-led red hot Wizards have pulled slightly ahead of Toronto in the standings, and if the Raps continue to free fall, they’ll likely be in a “fight” for the third-worst record with the Cavs, Suns, Pistons, Hornets, Kings and Timberwolves.
While being leapfrogged by all of those teams seems unlikely given that most of them will be “inadvertently” tanking, it’s not out of the question. Seven of the Raptors’ final 12 games are against playoff teams and the other five are against the Pistons, Wizards and Timberwolves, all teams that I mentioned above.
As a refresher, here are the lottery chances of landing a top-three pick based on where a team finishes in the standings. I’ve only included the percentages for the places in the standings the Raptors can realistically finish in.
28th place – 46.9% (Cleveland – 3.5 games behind Toronto)
27th place – 37.8% (Phoenix – 3.5 games behind Toronto)
26th place – 29.2% (Detroit – 3.0 games behind Toronto)
25th place – 21.5% (Sacramento – 1.5 games behind Toronto)
24th place – 15% (New Orleans – 1.5 games behind Toronto)
23rd place – 10% (Minnesota – 0.5 games behind Toronto)
22nd place – 6.1% (Raptors’ current standing)
21st place – 4% (Washington – tied with Toronto but ahead on tiebreaker)
20th place – 2.9% (Philadelphia – 1.0 games ahead of Toronto)
It may seem ridiculous that we’re even talking about this seriously, and I maintain that forfeiting a first round pick this year is better than losing it in more plentiful draft years, but you can already hear the Tank Nation rumblings starting up again among some Raptors fans, and it’s hard to blame them for that.
After all, that fact that a group of fans thinks losing as many games as possible at this time of the year is what’s best for the franchise shouldn’t be seen as a negative representation of their loyalty. The fact that fans have been reduced to this yet again instead of being able to watch meaningful games in March and April is the real issue, and that’s an indictment of the need for change at the top of this organization.