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Toronto Raptors forward Garrett Temple brings the ball up the court as Miami Heat guard Tyler Herro follows on the play during the second half at Kaseya Center on Apr 14 in Miami.Jim Rassol/Reuters

It is a mark of how much this city cares about its teams that they don’t need to apologize for being terrible. Love is never having to say you’re sorry – especially if you’re dating thousands of suckers.

The Toronto Raptors just ended an epochally bad season. It was one of those years that’s so wretched that everyone with some juice skips the last week of work.

This awfulness was amplified by expectations. At the outset, the team was meant to be good. Not very good, but playoff good.

By midseason – far too late – management started putting stars in escape pods and ejecting them from the doomed mother ship. At that point, things went from worse to truly bad.

On Monday, some of the people who authored this flop were brought out to explain why it was actually a fun ride.

“Guys generally liked each other,” was about the best centre Kelly Olynyk could say for the season.

It’s the “generally” that catches your attention.

Later, asked what he’d found out about the Raptors’ only remaining star, Scottie Barnes, he joked, “I learned he has fragile hands.”

After thinking about it for a beat, Olynyk got a glassy look and said, “That’s going to be a quote for sure.”

(Barnes missed the last bit of the season after his hand was accidentally broken by a teammate.)

Truffling for a bright side, often-injured Jakob Poeltl came up with, “The trades we made in the middle of the season helped show [rookie coach Darko Rajakovic’s] offensive system better.”

The Raptors were 7-24 after the trade deadline.

The year is over, and these guys can’t stop losing.

In fairness, what can they say? “If I was an NBA difference maker, you’d have noticed it because I’d be paid like one?” That would be more honest, but it would only make people angry.

That’s the secret to working for and/or running a pro-sports franchise in 2024 – you can be as bad as you want, as long as you say things people want to hear.

Tell them you’re getting better. Especially if you aren’t.

Talk about learning about yourself, and how change is hard, but you believe it’s possible and are determined to get there. Just imagine all the things you would tell a court-ordered psychiatrist and say them.

Back when sports was a pastime, people could see through this fog of nonsense. Now that fandom has become a personality, they want to be lied to.

If you never go off message, performance becomes a secondary concern. People become fixated on the minutiae of the rebuilding process instead. It’s the true secret to eternal life. The Raptors are in the midst of testing this theory.

No team has earned itself more mulligans. The Raptors broke the Loserville, Ontario, spell in Toronto sports when they won the NBA championship in 2019. But now that the team is coming down the other side of the mountain, how long until that reputation reattaches itself?

The short-term outlook is gruesome. The Raptors waited too long to start their rebuild, then botched it when they did.

Their best hope right now is winning the draft lottery in a month’s time. That would let them keep the top-six protected pick they traded away for no good reason.

The prize there is a chance to dip into a mediocre-to-bad draft class and, in all likelihood, grab someone who won’t make a discernible difference. They’re probably looking at Gradey Dick 2.0.

My advice – buy this new kid an even bigger, redder, more bedazzled jacket. It worked once.

Then the next season starts and, in all likelihood, things get worse.

The key isn’t personnel. There’s no hope in that regard. Barnes could go digging around in the family barn and discover he’s from Krypton and it’s still not going to turn this team into a contender.

The key is messaging. Remember your talking points – teaching and learning. Learning and teaching. Learning to teach. Teaching to learn.

If you go to work and start banging on about how much you have to learn, they demote you.

When a thirtysomething, US$20-million-a-year sports pro says the same thing, everyone congratulates him on being open to new things.

It doesn’t make any sense, which is why it’s hard to maintain. Eventually, that pro gets tired of learning. He likes winning better, thanks very much. Then he goes off on the coach, or management or a teammate, and everything starts falling apart. The process is so inevitable that it feels natural.

The current tank kings of the NBA are the Oklahoma City Thunder. They went five years between bottoming out and rising again. There was a lot of luck involved, and we still don’t know if it will completely work out.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s say the tank can be successfully completed in that time span.

Can the Raptors maintain message discipline for the next five years? Yes, if nothing changes.

As currently organized under the total control of team president Masai Ujiri, this team could lose 83 games next year and most fans would accept that it was in service to a greater good.

A different sort of question – how long until Ujiri gets tired of running a loser? Or MLSE ownership is shaken up? Or the Toronto Maple Leafs start popping rivets, creating a rogue wave across the civic sports landscape?

The odds of navigating a years-long period of abysmal performance, minus a well-articulated target or any plan on how to get there, and remaining fully intact, are close to nil.

But not in this city. In Toronto, people will believe anything. Don’t even bother with the learning jibber-jabber. Tell them losing is a type of winning.

It’s worked for the hockey club for ages. Maybe the effect is contagious.

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