One-fourth of the way into their season and the Toronto Raptors are sliding out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture fast.
Is it coaching? Players? A tough schedule?
Club president Bryan Colangelo says the buck stops with him as the team tries to end a five-game losing streak in which they've dipped to 11th in the standings.
"At the end of the day, there's a lot of talk about this being about coaching and systems and things like that," said Colangelo, who was en route yesterday to meet his team in Washington for tonight's game against the Wizards. "But at the end of the day if you're looking for someone to blame, you can point to me because I'm ultimately the one responsible for putting this group together."
So far, the pieces don't seem to fit, though the good news is with only five teams with winning records in the East, they haven't backed themselves into a corner yet.
Where they seem so out of place is on the defensive end. By some measures the Raptors are on pace to be one of the worst defensive teams in NBA history, at least based on how poor their defence is compared to the league averaged.
As of yesterday the Raptors are allowing 118.3 points per 100 possessions, which is by far the most in the NBA. The next worst is the wobbly Memphis Grizzlies, who allow 112.6 points per 100 possessions. The league average is 106.7. According to BasketballProspectus.com, no team in modern NBA history has ever had a defensive rating that is more that 7.8 per cent worse than the league average. The Raptors are on pace for 10.8 per cent.
For a brief while the Raptors appeared they could paper over some of their short-comings by their lights- out offensive numbers. After their last win, a home blowout over Indiana that pushed Toronto to 7-8, the Raptors were the best offensive team in the NBA as well, but in their five straight losses their offensive mojo has gone missing.
"The poor performance defensively has disrupted the other, more positive things we've been doing and the team is in a funk," Colangelo said. "It happens in the course of an NBA season, and it's up to us to get them out of it."
In their past five games Toronto is shooting a pedestrian 43.8 per cent from the floor and just 33.3 per cent from the three-point line, a big part of their attack. They've dropped from the best offensive team in the league to just fourth. Not a terrible spot, but when you're giving up nearly as many easy baskets as the Raptors do, they need every point they can get.
Two players - Antoine Wright and Jarrett Jack - appeared to make comments critical of head coach Jay Triano after a loss against Atlanta on Wednesday, the fourth consecutive time the Raptors have been blown out on the road on the second night a back-to-back, with an average margin of defeat or 26 points. They've suggested Triano, just over a year into the job, has been unwilling to step on toes to get his message across.
Colangelo said he had been previously scheduled to fly to Washington for today's game and wasn't planning to read the riot act, saying he's already addressed the team once this season.
But he said he's not planning any significant changes after a summer when he wowed the NBA with a flurry of trades and signings that brought the likes of Hedo Turkoglu and Jack here on long-term deals and included an extension for Andrea Bargnani if not Chris Bosh, who will be a free agent next summer.
"This team has far too much talent to cast off or give up on. I have no doubt these guys can play, but talk is cheap."
And he didn't sound like a coaching change was imminent, even though executives in New Orleans and New Jersey have stepped down from the front office to coach teams they've assembled but which have under achieved, a move his mentor and father, Jerry Colangelo undertook twice in his career running the Phoenix Suns.
"We can change the system and tweak it all we want, but it still comes down to execution and effort by the players," Colangelo said. "It's been very disappointing."